Here’s Your Brain When You Brag

May 8, 2012 4:49pm

For many talking about themselves is an act of self-promotion, but according to a new study, there is a simple explanation for why people share so much information about themselves. It feels good.

According to the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, sharing activates the same pleasure region of the brain that lights up in response to food and money.

“The act of sharing information about yourself with other people is a rewarding activity to engage in,” said Diana Tamir, a graduate student in the Social Cognitive and Affective Neurosicence Lab at Harvard University, and an author of the study.

Using MRI, the researchers recorded the brain activity of volunteers and asked them to talk about themselves or another person. The scans showed that when volunteers spoke about themselves there was increased activity in the region of the brain associated with pleasure. In another test, the volunteers could make money by choosing to answer questions that weren’t about themselves, but instead of maximizing their earnings, they chose lower margins so they could talk about their lives.

“In our study our participants were willing to pay about a penny to self-disclose. In the real world I think people are often willing to pay much more than that,” Tamir told ABC News. “I do think this sheds some light on the way people share so much on the Internet.”

After looking at previous  studies of naturalistic conversation, Tamir and her colleague Jason Mitchell found that about 30 to 35 percent of what people talked about was themselves, but on the Internet Tamir said that number skyrocketed to about 80 percent.

“With the Internet … we can kind of constantly reward ourselves repeatedly,” Tamir said. “The Internet is a great way to send out information, but I don’t think it can ever replace real conversations where people are sharing back and forth and soliciting information from other people.”

Tamir believes the fact that humans are hardwired to talk about themselves is not a bad thing. She said previous studies had found that people would pay money to solicit information from other people.

“If you were friends with somebody and they never told you anything about themselves, you’d probably stop being friends with them,” she said.

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