Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Why we enjoy sharing thoughts and emotions online

In this cartoon you see how people in the '50 would have reacted to the idea of sharing on Facebook en Twitter.. "so you are saying people will tweet what they are having for breakfast?!" I meet many people who are as surprised today (including myself at times! I'm not sharing so much personal information for instance.. ). 80% of the messages on social networks like Twitter are about our experiences, of course a twitter statement is still a reaction to the question: What are you doing?  (source article Tamir en Mitchell).

Last week I did a workshop at the Dutch conference about education and social media where Michel Penterman emphasized that social media are a logical consequence in the evolution of the need to share information. This all started with the first drawings in the caves. Maslow's pyramid about our needs is famous. On the  buying happiness weblog (via Alex den Haan) I found this picture matching social media to our basic needs according to Maslow. I wonder if there is not a new top on the pyramid necessary where we fullfil the need to express our experiences and emotion online..       
This article: 'disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding' by Tamir and Mitchell is providing a great insight in why we are sharing so much via social media. The authors investigated what sharing of experiences and emotions does within our brain.  People ('our species' as the article calls us) appear to have an intrinsic motivation to share their thoughts and emotions with others. This triggers a positive reward in our brains  (dopamine).

They discoverd the following (read it if you want to understand the details of the study):
  • If we disclose information about ourselves this triggers a greater reward than considering information about other people.
  • People were prepared to forego a monetary reward for sharing information about themselves. More than information about general questions - this means that sharing information about yourself has a value.
  • Talking about thoughts and emotions stimulates the reward system in your brains, even when it is done privately. However, when there is the opportunity to share it with others the reward is even higher. so sharing with people has a higher reward than sharing privately (eg. in a diary). This would explain neatly why I blog and don't do this in a private word document for instance..
Sharing what your thoughts are or sharing your emotions hence gives us a good feeling, similarly to what sex and food do for us. This is evolutionary smart because it can stimulate social bonds, enhance self-knowledge by means of feedback and to know what others think and feel, so that the knowledge of one person is greater than his/her own experiences. Smarter survival.

Leaves me with the question whether the value of a learning trajectory is higher for the people who share more? Or they will simply feel better? And lurker may learn but may not feel as engaged (hence not rewarded by their brains??