Why are we addicted to social media?

A questions I ask myself is why are we addicted to social media? Social media is so engraved in our daily lives these days that we are ourselves are becoming a brand. We need to understand the psychology of social media and use that knowledge to bring our customers closer, give them more of what they want, and create better relationships. 

The biology of social media

Oxytocin and dopamine

The pull of social media addiction isn’t all in our heads. It’s real and this is thanks to two chemicals our brains develop: oxytocin and dopamine.


Sometimes known as “the cuddle chemical” because it’s released when you kiss or hug.

Or … in social media world a ‘tweet’. In 10 minutes of social media time, oxytocin levels can rise as much as 13%—a hormonal spike equivalent to some people on their wedding day.

Goodwill comes with oxytocin for example lower stress levels, feelings of trust, love, empathy and generosity.

As a result, users who use social media have shown to be more trusting than the average user. The typical user on Facebook is 43% more likely than other Internet users to feel that most users can be trusted.


We know dopamine creates a need to want. Dopamine causes us to desire, seek and search.

Dopamine is accelerated by unpredictability, by tiny bits of information, and by reward cues — pretty much the precise conditions of social media.

The feel of dopamine is so strong that studies have shown tweeting is harder for people to resist than alcohol and cigarettes.

Between oxytocin and dopamine, social networking not only comes with a lot of enormous feelings, it’s also really hard to stop wanting more.

Why we share, post, like and comment

Let’s look at some of the main activities we do online and find out what strings are being psychologically pulled with each of them.

Why do we post on social media?

It’s not because of news, it’s because we love to talk about ourselves.

We devote about 80% of our time on social media talking about ourselves.

Why do we do that?

Talking face-to-face can be messy and emotionally draining, plus we don’t have time to think about what to say, we have to read body language.

But when we are online, we have time to refine and construct. This is what psychologists call self-presentation: it basically means positioning yourself the way you want to be seen.

The feeling we get from self-presentation is so heavy that viewing your own Facebook profile has been shown to increase self-esteem.

What’s also fascinating for marketing agencies is that the most outstanding way we tend to work on self- presentation is through things like buying things and acquiring things that tells us who we are

For example: Games, clothes, music, even the logo on your laptop.

The intensity of emotion by people that feel for their favourite brands as a result of this is incredible.

Brands are a huge part of who we are.

Brands that can design inspirational ways for their community to interact with them not only create social media opportunities but also the chance to move beyond likes into something everlasting.

Why do we share on social media?

If we like talking about ourselves so much, what makes us share things?

Sharing information is an impulse that we’re hard-wired too. Just with the thought of sharing activates our brain’s reward centers, even before we have done anything else.

Strengthening relationships

The biggest reason we share because it helps them to stay connected to people.

Tests have shown that the best predictors of infectious ideas in the brain are identified with the parts of the brain that focus on thoughts about other people.

This means content designed for social media doesn’t need to appeal to a group, it needs to appeal to a specific person.

Why do we like on social media?

Facebook is where people love to like. Actually, since Facebook implemented the “Like” button, it has been used more than 1.13 trillion times, with that number growing every day.

The reason we do this because we want to continue relationships. When like each people’s posts, we add value to that relationship, and reinforce that our intimacy.

We also create an exchange effect, we feel obliged to give back to people who have given to us.

You see reciprocity on Instagram also, where receiving a tag or direct message makes you feel obliged to send one back. Anytime you receive a like on your profile, you feel a little pull to reciprocate in some way, it could be by sharing something in return, or signing up for an email.

Why do we comment?

Most marketing companies think conversations with their customers are very important. It’s called engagement — its interacting as much as possible, this is what builds long-term advocacy.

Studies have found that customers don’t feel the same way though. A survey of more than 6,000 consumers found that only 22% said they have a relationship with a brand. But of those who did, only 12% allege frequent interactions with the brand as a reason for having a relationship.

Consumers said shared values are much bigger for a relationship than lots of interaction with a brand.

However this is not to say comments aren’t powerful. Actually they can be incredibly powerful — there’s a anomaly known as shared reality which says our experience of something is affected by if and how we share it with other people.

Any comment about you, which is online, is to a consumer a reflection of what kind of business you are. It’s not exactly coherent, but that’s how our brains work.

Selfies and Emoji

The selfie craze

Selfies work because we pay more attention to peoples faces than we do to any thing else.

  • The profile picture is the first thing the eye is drawn to on social media platforms like Facebook.
  • In Instagram, pictures with human faces are 40 percent more likely to get likes and 35 percent more likely to get comments.

Viewing faces can create compassion. An study showed by adding headshots of patients for a doctors’ report, found that photos of patients improve the way they treated patients.

For brands, there are many ways to harness the power of the selfie.

The dark and light sides of the Emoji

If we’re going to discuss the psychology of social media, we also need to be aware of the negative effects. Some say social media is making us more isolated and more depressed.

And their science to prove this. With the caveat that social media doesn’t change us, it’s just an extension of our human tendencies. It ramps it up a little.

We all have a habit to judge our worth by comparing ourselves to other people.

This leads to feelings of insecurity (in particular Facebook) where we go to share our happiest new, and dare I say to brag. We’re constantly comparing ourselves against a surge of babies, engagements and new jobs.

This also happens on Instagram, this is where Instagram hatred runs excessive, there has been some studies that show out of 7,000 mothers (in the US) revealed that 40 percent have a condition named Pinterest stress — this where they worry that they’re not creative enough.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, social media can also bring and unite us together. If you have ever posted about a loss, or a challenge on social media, you probably have experienced the empathetic support that can come from your family, friends and even those friends who might not expect, or haven’t been in contact with for years.

When we feel insecure we turn to Facebook to offer us comfort than turning to our partner or close family member.

Why are animals are so popular on social media?

Why do animals go so viral on social media?  Because they are not really about animals at all. Posts like these usually show humans at their best — caring, rescuing and fostering. In summary our empathy for animals is often us at our very best.

In Summary

Social media can chaw at our insecurities and suck us in, but at its core, it’s really about the good in the world: we see it in ourselves, and recognising it in others, and passing it on.

It lets us to get closer, empathise to who we truly want to be. Brands provide us with the freedom to connect with us.

Contact us today if you wish to share you point of view about the psychology of social media.

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