Personally, I have never stopped to think why I am posting something on social media, why I enjoy following my friend’s lives on snapchat or why social media has taken up so much of my personal time. There are many different approaches to why social media is so appealing, from increasing neurotransmitters, positive reinforcement
It is shocking to see the biological and chemical social media has on our brains and emotions. Through many different research, labs, experiments, and tests, it’s clear to see why humans are so hooked on posting. Wilhelm Hofmann from Chicago University Booth Business showed that social media activity spikes dopamine levels. Dopamine is a “pleasure chemical” that causes us to “seek, desire, and search”, only enhancing our need for more, more, more. Even as I’m writing this, I have an urge to go check my Facebook or scroll through Twitter. This feeling of seeking new thing is the same thing people feel when addicted to drugs, alcohol, or other toxic substances. Hofmann noticed then and then followed up on the addictive side of social media. He found that, Twitter is harder for people to resist than cigarettes and alcohol. Social media is being very much so proven to be like a drug. Nuero-economist, Paul Zak, also did a similar study to research the chemical effect of social media in our brains. He found that in just 10 minutes of social media time, oxytocin levels can rise as much as 13%; that is the same amount people feel on their wedding day. Oxytocin lowers stress levels, induces feelings of love, trust, empathy, and generosity. Social media isn’t just something fun to do in your free time, it’s a way of making us happier, less stressed, and loving.
An interesting article related social media to the experiments down by Fester and Skinner (1957) researching positive reinforcement. It explained how social media “reinforces behavior with the reward of personal information”. We “friend” someone and they can accept; rewarding us with information, picture, video, and more on their life. This behavior, however, isn’t always rewarded. Someone could allow you to “follow” them, but now follow you back, rejecting the behavior. In the same way as the studies; sometimes being rewarded and sometimes not increases engagement. However, this eventually leads to a dimishing return on this behavior. Eventually, you will run out of friends to follow. Then you will turn to “sorta-friends”, then acquaintances, then complete strangers. We are constantly expanding our circle to reward our behaviors. This will then lead to false realities of caring for someone you know nothing about (Ellison, 2014). A study by Rameet Chawla showed exactly how social media is reinforced. He developed an algorithm where his Instagram would “like” every post on his feed. Over the course of month he found he gained 30 new followers a day, got invited to more parties, was stopped on the street by “followers”, and received multiple messages from friends encouraging him to post more.
Another concept of why we enjoy social media is that there is something for everyone. Instagram, if you prefer pictures and videos. Twitter, if you want to convey short and quick information. Snapchat, if your prefer instantaneous connection. Facebook, if you want the whole package. It has been found that the social media outlet you prefer relates to what you crave neurotically (Hughes et al., 2012). Twitter is preferred by those with a higher need for cognition. Facebook is preferred for those who need higher sociability, extraversion, and neuroticism. Overall everyone on every social media site is searching for a “pursuit of security, reassurance, satisfaction of competition, and material gain.
I could write forever about the different ways in which social media appeals to all of us. There are so many different theories and concepts. However, the underlying concept is that it makes us feel good, even if it’s a false sense of reality.