The Science of Social Media

There is no denying social media websites have grown in numbers – and fast. Why are people in the 21st century driven to broadcast innermost thoughts and actions on the World Wide Web?

According to the Wall Street Journal, about 40% of everyday speech is devoted to telling others what we feel or think. In a Harvard University study, neuroscientists monitored brain activity among volunteers and measured what parts of the brain were most excited when people talked about themselves, as opposed to other people. They found that heightened activities in the meso-limbic regions of the brain were caused by acts of self-disclosure, similar to that of a Facebook status or Twitter update. This region of the brain is associated with the sense of reward and satisfaction from food or money.

Another study by Hoffman and Novak, entitled “Why Do People Use Social Media?” suggests the growing popularity of social media is less about brain chemistry and more about the chemistry of relationships. They introduce the “Four Cs” of social media: connect, create, consume and control. Hoffman and Novak infer that methods of human interaction may have changed, but the reasons and rewards are the same.

Overall, it’s all about a 5th “C.” Confirmation. Take the “like” button, for example. Confirmation from friends is great but confirmation from complete strangers is an entirely different feeling.

Here’s a question. Are we too reliant on social media sites like Facebook? What will connect us if, someday, it goes away?