Winning money, eating chocolate… using Facebook - research discovers why 'likes' matter to online teens

A researcher from the University of California in Los Angeles has explained the results of her study and 'reward circuitry' on talkRADIO.

Getting Facebook likes produces a similar feeling to eating chocolate or winning money, says the UCLA study

Friday, June 3, 2016

Ever wondered why teens spend so much time clicking around on Facebook when they should be studying or working? Well wonder no more, because researchers from the University of California (UCLA) have discovered the 'reward circuitry' in the brain that keeps young people going back for more. 

Along with scientists at UCLA's brain mapping centre, Lauren Sherman, a doctoral student in developmental psychology at the university, conducted a study to determine the effects Facebook has on the brain. 

The research, which was carried out on 32 teenagers between 13 and 18, found that the same parts of the brain activated by winning money and eating chocolate are stimulated when teenagers see large numbers of social media 'likes' on their own photos.  

"It's really interesting," she told Jonny Gould. "It's [the pleasure centre of the brain] getting involved when you feel good and in motivating future behaviour to learn about our world.

"This is what we think might be happening when teens go online and see they have a lot of likes.

"These same parts of the brain are involved in drug addiction, but they're also involved in nice things. Now we're seeing it's a part of this 'liking' experience."

Just like in more traditional interactions, the study found that social acceptance plays a key role in how subjects reacted online.

"Our teens were more likely to 'like' a picture of something like alcohol or marijuana if lots of other teens had liked it," Sherman said. 

"We're seeing peer pressure is something which is happening online as well. 

"With social media, there's a new way teens learn about the world and what is cool, so it's not always a bad thing.

"But it really matters what their friends are posting because it's affecting the way they perceive this information."