A recent article in The Atlantic hit close to home, and it’s worth a little meditation from those of us who trade in the world of ideas, particularly in the online marketplace.
When we share, it’s actually self-serving.
The Selfish Meme reports on recent research that suggests that humans get a “neurochemical reward from sharing information, and a significantly bigger reward from disclosing their own thoughts and feelings than from reporting someone else’s.”
The part of the brain long known to respond to food, sex, and money also lights up when we, well, talk about ourselves and our views on the world.
The troubling paradox, of course, is that when we share (ostensibly a magnanimous act), it’s actually self-serving. I think I’m helping you, but I’m actually the one benefiting.
Interestingly, we talk about ourselves more when on online—via Facebook or Twitter, for example—than when we’re face-to-face. As one researcher pointed out, when we’re with someone, we can receive social cues (eye rolling, ending eye contact) telling us to cut it out, stop focusing on ourselves. But when you’re on a computer program that allows you to be on “transmit” instead of “receive,” you can publicly look inward with impunity.
The article ends with another unexpected paradox, that this mirror-gazing behavior might actually have both social and evolutionary utility. Yes, demonstrating naked self-fascination is personally pleasurable, but it also helps strengthen interpersonal bonds and enables others to learn information they might not come across otherwise.