Is Facebook better than sex?

Research suggests using social media sites may activate pleasure centers in the brain.

By TheStreet Staff Jun 28, 2012 1:44PM

By Robert Weinstein  


How does it feel?


Not when you give or receive a poke. How does it feel when you see others "like" your status update or comment "LOL" to your funny picture? Does it make you want to do it again and receive even more "likes" and comments?


A team of researchers recently published their findings in a study asking the question of what it feels like when people share personal information on social media sites like Facebook (FB), LinkedIn (LNKD) and Twitter .


Here is what they found: Sharing information is pleasurable. (See my Oops, I Did It Again: Facebook and Zynga Hit New Lows article.)


We all have a Facebook "friend" who update their Facebook page 50,000 times a day. "I am out of bed...I hate Mondays...I can't decide if I should wear the blue shirt or the red one...decided on green...gained half a pound since yesterday's update...need to look at diet plans...driving to the bank...waiting in bank line..." and on and on the updates appear all day long ad nauseam.


People posting countless updates on Facebook are actually not much different than some people at parties. You know the type: People who begin talking the moment they walk in the door until hours later when the door closes behind them as they leave. The difference is you can more easily ignore "friends" on Facebook than at a party.


According to research, we spend 30% to 40% of the time we talk talking about our own subjective experiences. I believe the research percentages must be an average and not hard limits because we all know people on the right side of that bell curve.


Researchers Diana Tamir and Jason Mitchell of Harvard University's Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab conducted a study asking why people are motivated to post personal information on social networks. The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning while asking subjects questions. They wanted to know if using social sites like Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and others stimulated parts of the brain.


After testing the results of almost 80 people, the researchers found specific regions of our brains become active as a result of revealing personal information. One region of interest is the "pleasure center" believed to focus on reward, pleasure and addiction. The mesolimbic dopamine system "pleasure center" includes the nucleus accumbens and the ventral tegmental areas of the brain.


What truly gets our brain's pleasure center working overtime are the usual suspects of food, money, humor, a picture of the opposite sex and, yes, self-disclosing information (hello Facebook).


The dopamine released by a person's brain when a posting of theirs is created, "liked" and commented on by others appears to be proportionate in pleasure with money, food and sex, according to the Harvard researchers' study.


"Two additional studies demonstrated that these effects stemmed from the independent value that individuals placed on self-referential thought and on simply sharing information with others," they wrote. "Together, these findings suggest that the human tendency to convey information about personal experience may arise from the intrinsic value associated with self-disclosure."


To test their theory, the researchers gave subjects a choice of answering questions about facts, others, or themselves. Even when faced with monetary rewards, people wanted to talk about themselves (not a shocking surprise actually). Research in the past has quantified the amount of money people will pay to view attractive members of the opposite sex. Knowing how much people are willing to pay is something Rick's Cabaret (RICK) figures out on a daily basis, and it's a lot.


Zynga (ZNGA) provides reasons for people to post updates and stay connected. Zynga has millions of players spending time on their games. Most of Zynga players are from Facebook.


The attraction to play on Zynga is so rewarding, people spend real money to buy virtual cows and other "things" to use in their fantasy online games. Zynga appears to demonstrate, in part, a real-life "experiment" in the amount people will pay for social success.


The question is still up in the air how much value Facebook, Zynga and Linkedin can produce for shareholders. (There is no question about Rick's.) The research appears to support the online social media experience is here to stay.


TheStreet's John Hughes and Scott Maragioglio wrote an interesting Real Money Pro article about Facebook and LinkedIn titled Coming Back Around to Social Media. (You need a Real Money Pro subscription to read, but if you don't have one this is this is a good reason to get one.)


When you walk into the bedroom and your significant other is sitting on the bed with an Apple (AAPL) iPad typing away on Facebook you will have a better understanding of why.

Maybe the pleasure has already begun.


This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.



More from TheStreet

Jul 18, 2012 8:21AM

I just got rid of my FB account.


I don't need someone else's validation (or "like") to know who I am or make me feel good about me. I like me, for the most part; work in progress and all...


FB did nothing for me...Its a self-indulgent tool, for the most part, as many people need to feel wanted (i.e., I have "friends" who view my posts and therefore must think that I have information worth sharing). Also, whatever happened to good ole' verbal banter? Or face to face interaction?  

Jul 18, 2012 7:34AM

Facebook users are weak, pathetic little creeps who have no REAL life.  Just like that Toyota commercial where the girl is talking about her 618 FB friends, "THIS is living!"


I don't use FB, never have, never will.  I have nothing but disgust for those who are addicted to it.


That is all.

Jul 18, 2012 5:48AM
Screw facebook and all of its chronies. Doesnt anyone want to do thier own thing anymore? Better than sex,I guess these people dont get good sex. I hope it gets shut down so I can watch all of you go crazy because you cant talk **** online and we all know you wouldnt say these things to the peoples faces.
Jul 18, 2012 10:21AM

Not on there- I don't understand the fasination with places like FB....I refuse to be part of a herd.


Have a nice day.

Jul 18, 2012 4:34AM

A good conversation lasts longer Than sex. And sometimes more interesting. Though many are obsessed with sex only, they have little ability to have a caring relationship long term.
It involves more. Like commitment, adaption, and abandonment of self. Fewer are able to do that.


Jul 18, 2012 8:15AM
Is Facebook better than sex?

Jul 18, 2012 10:32AM
FB is slightly better than reading the Telephone Book!
Jul 18, 2012 10:02AM
To me, facebook is just a platform that I use to discuss current events. It is my hope that those who spend time on such site, will take a moment to read and give thought to something relevant. My post are of current events that will impact the lives of the common people. Hopefully, the readers will give some thought to what's going on around them, and how those things will impact their lives. It is my goal to discuss things that are often ignored; otherwise, I find the site to be another way to dumb society down. It is like sitting in front of a television all day watching programs with no educational value. People would be better off if they were to take a college course, or read a self help book.. I spend as little time as possible on the pointless site.
Jul 18, 2012 11:03AM
I'll be honest, I skipped the article to read the comments...
Jul 18, 2012 7:09AM
still my sex is better then facebook are the go insane ??? don't have facebook its crap and corruption ,scam still the are in court for it, he sold 1billion shares on private banker and billionaires !!before it was on the real market !!! normally you go to jail for it ????and the never pay on cent on tax!!!!??
Jul 18, 2012 8:17AM

I myself use my face book for family issues, giving phyilisophical enlightenment to my grandchildren.  And to promote good will and different special events,clothing and interesting news features.  Don't realy get into a lot of personal communications. I simply don't want to hear thier stuff. Remembering-----"WHAT YOU PUT OUT THERE IS GONNA COME BACK TO YOU".  I love life and don't want someone elses trash in my back yard.


Jul 18, 2012 12:10PM

Sex is better than Facebook . NO CONTEST.

Jul 18, 2012 12:07PM
No way, is Facebook is better than sex. Are you serious? There's nothing better than sex.
Jul 18, 2012 11:17AM

Call FB what you will, but as the research suggests, it becomes an addiction to many. The posters who do not understand the fascination with FB are likely those who do not understand why an alcoholic can not just "stop" drinking or why the compulsive gambler can not just "stop" going to the casino.  I read somewhere that FB is cited in 7 out of 10 divorce filings. Internet addiction is growing by leaps and bounds. For many, the internet is a blessing.. for even more it is a curse.

Jul 18, 2012 8:47AM
The only thing Facebook does for me is to keep me up to date with my favorite USA Network syfy and tv shows.
Aug 1, 2012 6:58AM
كيف حالكم شباب  اهني الشعب السعودي برمضان المبارك

Jul 18, 2012 12:54PM
The answer is: Hell No!!  Sex is like pizza, even when it's bad it's still pretty good.  Can't say that about Facebook.
Jul 18, 2012 11:59AM
If you read some of (anyone's) facebook pages, it is obvious that facebook is a substitute for sex among the "not getting any" crowd.
Jul 18, 2012 12:15PM
sex is VASTLY overrated    facebook is only good for following your fav band or politics IMO
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