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Using Social Media Unleashes the Love Chemical

Carson Reider
Carson Reider / December 30, 2013

Love Chemical: Twitter and OxytocinChecking your Facebook news feed or your Twitter timeline may happen once, twice, ten times a day for you.

For better or worse, these actions have become habit for many of us. Your habits are results of your emotions, and emotions are a force to be reckoned with. Have you ever felt your mood change during or after you sneaked a peek at your feeds? No matter your answer, your brain responds uniquely to your social media activity.

Last week, we discussed how Facebook can affect your body image. Today we identify a different emotional reaction to social media, the warm and fuzzy kind.

Social Media and Oxytocin

Oxytocin, (ox-ee-TOE-sin aka "the cuddle drug", "the love drug", "the love chemical" and the less sexy "bonding hormone") is the neuroactive hormone that plays a key role in social attachment and recognition. It has been described as the "social glue" that bonds families, communities, and societies together. One researcher affectionately given the moniker, Dr. Love, has shown that oxytocin floods our brain during our social media activities.

Neuroeconomist Paul Zak (the aforementioned Dr. Love), who has uncovered how oxytocin makes us more generous, is exploring the role of this so-called love chemical in human interaction and is uncovering its value in social media. Fast Company's Adam Penenberg underwent three of Zak's experiments and detailed them in fascinating fashion. The final experiment involved a blood draw, followed by a ten-minute TweetDeck session, and concluded with another blood draw and analysis. Zak delivered Penenberg's results, and they are profound. In the ten minutes between blood draws, Penenberg's oxytocin levels rose 13% while cortisol (a stress hormone) fell 10%. To summarize that without scientific mumbo-jumbo: warm, fuzzy feelings went up; bad, anxious feelings went down. Zak's research suggests that social networking is "digital oxytocin".

You can gain a better understanding of Dr. Love's background and approach by watching the video. Zak redid the Twitter-Penenberg experiment with Facebook and three Korean journalists. The results were more staggering than before! He addresses this at the 13:56 mark in the video.

Social Media and Emotion

Social media is driven by emotion, and therefore our digital interactions are rooted in our body's biological and psychological processes. So powerful, that it's even replaced dropping to one in...a marriage proposal! As Penenberg notes, Zak's research has massive implications for the future of social media: "[...] all of this research reinforces the idea that we are biologically driven to commingle, and suggests that online relationships can be just as real as those conducted offline."

It appears that by wishing everyone a Happy New Year on social media, you may feel like you are there with them in person.

What Do You Think?

Can your body's responses to interacting through social media channels mimic those felt through personal human interaction?

Can virtual relationships be as real as actual relationships?

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below or by leaving us a voice message!

Tagged With: Social Media