Social Media has become an integral part of our daily lives. Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp are the top 3 social media platforms. Whereby Facebook is leading the pack by a huge margin, ahead of the video platform Youtube. Since almost everyone is using social media, the question is no longer if we use it, but why. What motivates us?

Two reasons for using social media

social media top 10 netzwerke top ten networks social media

This graph shows a worldwide statistic of the biggest social media networks, measured by their monthly active users. (As of August 2018, Source: Dreamgrow)
The Global Web Index looked into the question, as to why people use social media and created a top 10 list.

Summing up, there are two prevalent reasons:

  1. To connect with others (peers) (stay in touch with friends, news, information and current events)
  2. To manage one’s own image.

These fundamental social drives existed long before Facebook, Instagram and other networks. These platforms merely have managed to capitalize them. They managed to do this by devoting themselves to the deep-rooted needs that people feel to perfectly fill these digital frames.

The reward as motivation

Here a like, there a heart and sometimes a laughing-out-loud emoji – the emotional expressions on the digital stage are limited. Nevertheless, they exert a prevailing share of the success of social networks.

But what is it that makes „Likes“ and „Hearts“ so fascinating to the users? What does a simple click with the mouse say about the quality of the shared information and the person behind it? Actually, nothing. And this is where the problem starts.

Neurological aspects

A study done by Harvard University tried to evaluate the phenomenon behind the „like“ and tried to figure out which effects a digital „like“ has on a user. These are explained fairly quickly:
Thus, a „like“ offers a bold way of giving feedback and appraisal which are saved in the emotional memory oft he user and subsequently processed. This way, deeply-rooted psychological needs of attention and bonding are fulfilled through validation. Yet, these mock-relationships have profound impacts. The disclosure of content, followed by feedback, activates the rewards-systems of our brains. Dopamine is getting released. The happiness-hormone “Dopamine” is the reason why we feel good when receiving a message, a like or if someone leaves a comment beneath one of our pictures. By the way, when receiving a “like” the same brain areas are activated that also get stimulated when eating, gambling or having sex. In other – less bold words – a “like” on Instagram or Facebook will cause a small mini-orgasm.

The British-US-American author and business consultant, Simon Sinek, explains it this way:

“We know when you get the attention it feels good, you get a hit of dopamine which feels good which is why we keep going back to it. Dopamine is the exact same chemical that makes us feel good when we smoke, when we drink and when we gamble. In other words, it’s highly, highly addictive…“

Self-display as self-gratification

Got it, a like feels great. But why do we post photos of our food? What motivates us to report our life on a daily basis as if we are celebrities? A study conducted by the University of California with the title „Disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding“ devoted itself to exactly that question. The necessary stimulus, as previously mentioned, is given by the rewards-system of our brains. Positive experiences, this small tingling feeling – the good feeling – is saved in the emotional memory and gets repeated with the expectation of similar consequences. Again and again.

Self-revelation even stronger than material gains

Following experiment was conducted as part of the study: Small amounts of money in exchange for information were offered to a subject groups. The receive the reward, they simply had to answer questions about themselves and others. The results: a big amount of test persons refused the money, and therefore a lucrative offer, just to talk about themselves. The investigators therefore concluded that self-disclosure is unconsciously perceived to be of higher quality than material and financial rewards. Emotions beat economics.
The effects can be devastating

The true effects of social media usage is showing in the behavior of an especially vulnerable target-audience: teens. Especially during the years of puberty, teenagers are nagged with self-doubt and uncertainty. Now add the fact that they are surrounded by mock-evaluations that still feel real – as they are evoke the same response as real ones in their brain. Here we have a target-group that suffers from immense stress while being in the process of re-orienting their futures. This generation now continuously must try to be liked, received well and even admired. The approval that they receive in the end is highly addicting and leads to entire self-confidences being built upon them. The result is a quintessentially addicted generation. Addicted to fast validation, fast results and fast “relationships”. Yet, it isn’t easy to reach substantial results so fast and real relationships take time and aren’t that easy to find and to nurture.

We must face the fact, that we underestimated the consequences of the social web. We promoted the digital revolution in a pace that our emotional thinking can’t keep up with the challenges. What we have to do? It sounds simple, but is truly difficult: we have to work on our self-confidence, learn to be patient, we have to (re)train social competences and create real connections. The bottom line is to find a good balance between life and technology.

Tamir, Diana L. & Mitchell Jason P. (2012) Disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, gesehen auf,, (1.10.2014, 19:19))