We’ve all been there. Waiting for the phone to buzz, or the screen to light up, after we’ve left some precarious comment somewhere out on the internet. We know that we’re stirring the pot, or that we’re about to get some heat.
And, despite getting burned time and again, we keep coming back to that flame. Why?
Well, apparently, because we’re all just rats at heart.
Users who crave likes on social media may have thinking patterns that are fundamentally similar to those of lab rats seeking food, a study has concluded.
Researchers from the US and Europe found that efforts to maximise ‘likes’ follow the pattern of so-called ‘reward learning’ also found in animals seeking food rewards.
Experts estimate that platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram occupied the attentions of more than four billion people for multiple hours each day last year.
While some have likened social media engagement to an addiction, it has remained unclear why some are driven to engage obsessively with such online platforms.
The new findings, the researchers said, may help experts uncover new ways to address problematic engagement with social media.
This is a similar principle to one being employed by the mainstream media, in which they rely on your brain’s desire for certain emotional chemicals in order to keep you watching through the commercials.
And just how predictable are we?
The researchers found that people tend to space their posts in a way that maximises the average number of likes they receive.
Specifically, social media users tend to post more frequently in response to a high rate of likes and less frequently when they receive fewer likes.
Computational models revealed that this likes-related pattern of posting matches so-called ‘reward learning’ — a concept from psychology which proposes that behaviours can be driven and reinforced by the promise of rewards.
Specifically, the researchers have compared the behaviour of social media users seeking to maximise their ‘likes’ to rats seeking to increase their food rewards in an experimental setup known as a ‘Skinner Box’.
This is a commonly-used test in which animals are placed in a compartment and can are rewarded with treats when they undertake a given action — such as, for example, pressing a particular lever. to access food.
And, since many of us are probably reading this article after having seen it on social media, could someone pass the cheese this way?
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