Take a look at anyones smart phone, and there will be a few apps that are common to all. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat have become the social norms of social media. Everywhere you look people will be checking their phones to check their number of likes, their retweets, and their friend requests. But I often wonder why it is that people seem to be so addicted to their social media, and why it plays such a crucial role in their lives.
The short answer is that we want to be wanted. We as social creatures, thrive on the feeling that other people want to know what we are doing at all times. According to a recent study done by a Harvard research team, the pleasure we get from social media is the “same pleasure that we get from eating food, getting money or having even having sex.” In our minds, having people “like” what we are doing gives the same biological response that we get from real life rewards.
The experiments were conducted by asking the subject a series of questions about themselves and others, while the researcher monitored their results on an MRI. By the end of the experiment it was clear that whenever people were able to share their activities to others, they experienced a level of reward. However whenever people’s statuses or pictures were liked by others, the level of reward went up significantly.
The culprit behind this addiction appears to be dopamine. The magical compound, which is crucial to the feeling of reward, was first discovered by Arvid Carlson in 1958. However according to recent research, dopamine does not actually cause you to feel the reward. “Dopamine causes you to want, desire, seek out, and search. It increases your general level of arousal and your goal-directed behavior.” Prior to the invention of social media, this release of dopamine was controlled and happened seldomly. However, through social media we as a society have become addicted to the instant gratification that comes along with it. This process leads to what is called a dopamine loop where “ Dopamine starts you seeking, then you get rewarded for the seeking which makes you seek more. It becomes harder and harder to stop looking at email, stop texting, or stop checking your cell phone to see if you have a message or a new text.”
In the modern era where everything comes instantly, it appears that now we want our rewards that way too. This explains the constant need to check, post, and repost everything we do in our daily lives. There have been many times where I have seen people post and then delete something because the response was not large enough for them. The dopamine loops that we have fallen in to have led to an addiction that seems to have no cure in sight.