Why People Share Things Online: Dopamine

by Jason Keath on Jun 04, 2012
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Originally published on SocialCommerceToday.com, written by Paul Marsden

why we share: dopamineUnderstanding why people share stuff in social media is key to unlocking sales in social commerce; social media communicates social influence and social influence creates social sales.

Research Helps

And a new study by Harvard psychologists Diana Tamir and Jason Mitchell has just found out why we share – it’s the mesolimbic dopamine system.

Humans devote 30–40% of speech output solely to informing others of their own subjective experiences.

Bypassing the neurobabble (read the study here), what the study found was that the area of the brain responsible for outputting the ‘pleasure chemical’ (the neurotransmitter dopamine that makes us feel pleasure) is activated when we talk about ourselves.

Which is probably why 30-40% of everything you ever say will be about you. Your Mesolimbic Dopamine System means you get a chemical kick about talking about yourself.

It’s also probably why 80% of your social media output will be vanity posts about you. Talking about yourself is verbal masturbation and you’re addicted. You’re hardwired to spread your memes as well as your genes.

In a nutshell, the psychologists found this out by getting people to talk about themselves and then about others whilst having their brain scanned (fMRI) and then by getting them to do cognitive tests.

Bottom line? Lots of pleasure chemical when talking about ourselves, not a lot when talking about other.

People Even Turn Down Money

And if asked, we’d rather fill out an unpaid survey about ourselves than get paid to fill out a survey about facts or others.

In fact, the premium we give on talking about ourselves over talking about others averages out to be $0.63. Our minds might want privacy, but our brains want self-disclosure.

So what does all this mean for social commerce?  Simple, get people to talk about themselves, not your products.  Your product should feature, but it’s the support role, not the leading role.

In the world of social commerce, the t-shirt wisdom “it’s all about me” holds true.  (thanks to Ed White, from the fabulous Contagious Magazine, for the heads up on this study).

Post Author

CEO and founder of Social Fresh, the social media education company. Jason is a social media consultant, a social media speaker and industry analyst. He consults with corporations and agencies on social media strategy, building community, and influencer...

  • People really want to feel important.  That’s the bottom line, even chemically induced!

  • This post has some interesting facts but it would be better if there would be a few examples on how you can use this for your own brand.

  • I love this subject. This is a presentation we gave on Social Media Week about Gamification, where we used Dopamine as the Trigger for Social Media actions. 

  • Great presentation Dario !

  • Great article Jason.  The “turning down money” part was an eye-opener for me.

    As a sidenote… in your author bio at the end it starts “CEO and founder of Social Fresh, te social media…”

    I might add an “h” in there some where ;)


  • Thanks. Corrected.

  • Shadi Halloun

    Great article. This is a core change that I need to make in my website, to ask people more about themselves, and to help them “show” others their subjective opinions. Thanks a lot Jason:)