Psychology: Why are we Addicted to Social Networks?

Let’s take a poll. Who has Liked a video of puppies or retweeted an article without even reading it just because the title sounded interesting? No need to be ashamed, we’ve all done it. As rational as we are, there is something stronger than us that determines our actions on social networks – a je ne sais quoi that makes us connect daily or even hourly, to check what’s going on.

But what is it exactly? A digital hypnosis? You might be thinking of certain acronyms like FOMO, FOBO, or NoMo. Even though it might feel like it at times, these acronyms don’t give us the full picture. This strange phenomenon of addiction is rooted in our brains. Several basic psychological processes can explain why we spend our time expressing our opinions and emotions on social networks, and when science explains the buzz, it becomes downright exciting!

We share to entertain, inspire and be useful

Sometimes it can feel like people who post on social media are putting all the focus on themselves. However, this isn’t always the case. In fact, the main reason people love to share stories and photos on their Facebook page or Twitter feed is because they value the people they surround themselves with. In other words, they either want to elevate their own status or help friends and peers improve their lives.

When we take a closer look, this isn’t so surprising. According to a study run by psychologists from UCLA, it’s clear which areas of our brain are active when we discover interesting content (for example, the dress that sparked a heated debate on colors) and which areas drive us to interact with our peers. When we see new information, our immediate, unconscious reaction is to ask whether it will interest others.

Matthew Lieberman, a UCLA professor of psychology and bio-behavioral sciences noted:

Our study suggests people are regularly attuned to how the things they’re seeing will be useful and interesting, not just to themselves, but also to other people. We always seem to be on the lookout for who else will find this helpful, amusing or interesting. Our brain data is showing evidence of this. At the first encounter with information, people are already using the brain network involved in thinking about how this can be interesting to other people. We’re wired to want to share information with other people. I think is a profound statement about the social nature of our minds.

We share to express who we really are

When we Like or share content on social networks, we’re actually identifying ourselves through it. Specifically, we define our “ideal self,” a concept introduced by psychologists Hazel Markus and Paula Nurius in 1986. This first self, the idealized interpretation of ourselves, is what we most usually share on social media. When you see people sharing beautiful pictures of sugar-free, gluten-free and lactose-free dishes (basically lacking all the good stuff), on Instagram, there is a reason. Yes, it’s possible that they’re on a diet, but more likely they post these pictures to show they are a person with healthy eating habits.  Social networks help us show who we dream of being whether it’s obtainable or not.

But, even if we’re able to fool one another, networks aren’t as easily persuaded. When we pretend to be someone we’re not, these social networks know precisely our real characteristics thanks to tracks left on the Web. According to a recent study, our Facebook Likes are tell-tale signs of who we actually are, giving away personal information such as the color of our skin (with an accuracy of 95%), sexual orientation (88%) or age (75%). Big Brother is never far away!

We ‘Like’ because we want to nurture our relationships

According to Facebook, 44% of users click on the Like button on their feed at least once a day.  And for some people, it seems to be almost second nature. But what exactly is behind this repetitive action that we all take part in on social networks? The answer is; it’s a quick way of connecting with people we may not otherwise stay in touch with. According to an Ipsos global study, we use these actions to show we identify with the published content because we find it interesting (61%), funny (43%) or unique (26%).

We feel excited when we receive comments

Why do we allow comments on social networks? Because we have something to say. Trite, but true. We respond to publications or forums because we think – or at least hope – our opinion may interest others. In addition, and this is where it gets kind of spicy, comments are a source of intense pleasure, and it’s not just for the person writing of course, but mainly for the person receiving the message. A survey conducted on friendship on Facebook shows we feel a sense of reward when we receive a comment, even if it is just a simple response to a post. The fact someone went out of their way to write anything at all really gets us excited!

Because we’re afraid to miss #information

Ok, so maybe we were kidding when we said FOMO isn’t a reason we’re addicted to social media. With the multiplication of news channels, a new form of dependency has taken hold… FOMO or Fear Of Missing Out.  We all have one friend or maybe even are that person (no judgment here) that can never be separated from their phone for more than 20 seconds. Let’s be real, we’ve all experienced that faint feeling of panic when your battery gets below 10%. Why? Because we need to know everything, all the time – and we’re pretty good at it!

So there it is. Be nice, pull on some heartstrings and be useful. Those are the secret ingredients to creating viral content that gets shared again and again. And again.

By Tali Marks

Community and Social Media Manager

#psychologybehindsocialmedia #SocialMedia #SocialNetworks


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