The ‘Like’ Dynamic and Our Obsession With It

‘likes’ on social mediaSource: Pixabay

Most of us check our social media pages at least a few times a day to see whether or not our latest posts have received another ‘like’ or reaction. It might be embarrassing for some to admit, but scientists and psychologists alike believe that it is completely normal to do this!

According to these experts, the pleasure we get from receiving a like or comment on one of our posts has an actual, tangible effect on our brains. Each like from a friend or acquaintance acts as a reward for our psyches, similar to eating tasty fast food or winning money when playing slots games, leaving us wanting more each time.

This sounds relatively simple, and indeed it is. Ordinarily, this feedback system is not particularly harmful – although in more and more instances, social media users are beginning to display signs of addiction to these types of rewards. According to psychologist Emma Kenny, the brain even rewards you with a hit of dopamine whenever you receive a like or a positive response on one of your posts.

An obsession with likes, comments or other reactions from friends and strangers on social media platforms is thus a very real form of addiction, acting on our brains in the same way as addictions to tobacco, drugs, food, or even gambling would.

Teens and Millennials the Most Susceptible

In a study by the UCLA Brain Mapping Centre, 32 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 were observed due to their brain circuits being particularly sensitive to certain stimuli. Researchers found that the parts of the teens’ brains correlating with social and visual rewards were activated upon their receiving likes on a simulated social network similar to Instagram.

Teens were the focus of this study and many others because they are a particularly vulnerable population for a number of reasons. Firstly, today’s teenagers and Millennials are better versed with social media than any other generation, and are thus more likely to have one or multiple social media accounts. This age group is also one that naturally longs for attention – and receiving likes on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter provides just that kind of stimulation, both positive and negative.

Seeking out social media approvalSource: Pixabay

Social Media and its Links to Loneliness

Although wanting attention is natural, according to M. Farouk Radwan in Why Do People Crave Attention?, too much desire for attention can actually create more anxiety than it does satisfaction, potentially even impacting negatively on your happiness once you do achieve it. Although many become obsessed with social media likes to make themselves feel appreciated, jealousy and competitiveness may take over and leave addicts feeling more and more inadequate, which could in turn lead to depression and anxiety.

Likes have also become more than simply a positive reaction towards a personal update. They have evolved into a form of social feedback that a person uses to gauge others’ reactions towards themselves and their actions. This has created a powerfully influential tool that can essentially make or break your ego, although there is a silver lining to the system as well.

The Silver Lining: How to Beat the Addiction

Like-based communications have been shown in some studies to decrease loneliness as they convey caring and empathy from others. Some researchers believe that the system can have massively positive effects too, acting as a simple and low-cost way to send positive feedback or show someone you care. The trick to maintaining this positivity is to avoid becoming obsessed with likes, which scientists say can be done in a few key ways.

Psychologist Jennifer Crocker has noted in the Journal of Social Issues that if people – even teens – adopt goals that are not focused on their own self-esteem, but rather something bigger than themselves, they will be less affected by the negative side of the ‘like system’. Ergo, focussing on what you can contribute or create for others rather than simply yourself can help you to sidestep becoming addicted to likes as a form of approval or a temporary ego boost.


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