This may be a perspective most regular users of social media never consider. Nevertheless, it is something many may be aware of, but only on a subconscious level. When interviewing for a job, or making friends with acquaintances perhaps met with for the first time, most folks want to present, and to project, the best possible idealized version of themselves.
So it happens with social media.
On the one hand, there is the real you, and there is the persona cultivated to social media contacts, or ‘friends’. For now, the particulars of this phenomenon we shall explore in a later post. For now, we shall attempt to discover why social media behaviors seem to become increasingly addictive.
I see you shaking your head. But you know very well what I”m talking about, don’t you?
When an exciting tweet, or FB post, you’ve been anticipating shows up on your screen, how you can’t wait to click it on? But, has one never considered the larger ramifications of this? Is it really worth sacrificing other, perhaps more productive things you could be doing, like interacting with real family and friends, rather than checking your smart phone every five minutes to see how many ‘likes’ you got on FB today-is this frantic, and quite frankly addictive behavior, worthy of the time and attention most seem to afford it?
In the last two installments concerning this subject, the psychological aspects of social media were discussed. Most are familiar with Pavlov, and his experiments with ‘classical conditioning’, about the ringing of the bell indicating the delivery of reward, in this case food to salivating dogs serving as test subjects.
Social media, on the other hand, demonstrates yet another type of psychological manipulation, known as ‘operant conditioning’. This occurs when a test subject deliberately alters their behavior due to some sort of effective stimulus being introduced. The most recognizable form of this is popularly termed ‘positive reinforcement’, an incentive given for changing behavior in preferred ways.
But, is there a clear relationship with this example and what occurs on social media ? Turns out, indeed, there is.
Researchers at Stanford University have attempted to explain why most cannot seem to stop looking at their Twitter feed or FB posts. In a study involving various social media behaviors, researchers concluded that it is not the positive reinforcement in developing addictive behaviors with regard to social media platforms , rather it is the unpredictability with which the rewards are delivered that keeps you coming back for more. In other words, since we can’t tell when another rewarding social experience may occur, that acts as a prime motivator in returning to the social media platform to check, sometimes several times per hour.
The end result being, one is more willing to sacrifice real relationships with friends, family, and even co-workers, to see what is happening with those artificially created ‘friends’ online. Besides the obvious consequences, what are the larger implications to be drawn from these addictive behaviors?
Turns out, per Stanford researchers, the end result may be feelings of deprivation, perhaps even acute depression.
In short, with regard to social media and operant conditioning, the effectiveness of a consequence is directly related to becoming deprived of that addictive stimulus.
So, in light of these findings, ask yourselves: Is it really worth it in abandoning your real relationships, for the fake ones developed on social media?