Talking about ourselves: chocolate for our synapses

Want to make your brain happy? Here's a scientifically proven method: just talk about yourself! Harvard researchers have discovered that talking about ourselves - or to use the scientific term, "self-disclosure" - activates the same pleasure region of the brain as primary rewards such as food, money, and, yes, sex. No wonder a Tweet or Facebook post can feel so good!
Recent surveys estimate that we devote 30-40% of our everyday speech and roughly 80% of our engagement with social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter to talking about our own subjective experiences. Trying to get to the bottom of this propensity towards self-disclosure, neuroscientists Diana Tamir and Jason P. Mitchell from the University of Harvard's Department of Psychology conducted a series of behavioural and brain experiments. Participants were given various tasks, such as disclosing their own thoughts and opinions or commenting on the personality traits of others, while their brains where being scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging technology (fMRI). In their study, published in the May 7 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers report that the brain scans revealed especially heightened activity in the meso-limbic dopamine system - the brain's reward pathway - when people shared information about themselves. In fact, it seems our brains get so tickled by self-disclosure that even money cannot compete: in another set-up, study subjects were prepared to forgo between 17 per cent and 25 percent of their potential earnings for a chance to talk about themselves. Note though that it's not simply talking about ourselves that fires up our brain circuits, but in particular talking about ourselves to others. The researchers suggest that the tendency towards sharing our thoughts and beliefs may constitute an adaptive advantage, for example, by engendering social bonds, and as such is rather a reflection of the sociality of our species, rather than a sign of self-obsession. As social creatures, we just seem to be wired to share. So next time you update your Facebook status or send that tweet, remember: it's like chocolate for your brain!

Diana I. Tamir and Jason P. Mitchell
Disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding
PNAS 2012; published ahead of print May 7, 2012, doi:10.1073/pnas.1202129109

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