Addicted to Facebook? Blame Your Brain


“If time is money, then the site represents the most valuable Internet property on the web today.”

Facebook’s 1.44 billion active users spend over 20 minutes per day on Facebook, which translates to five full days per year. If that number sounds staggering, consider that Americans use Facebook twice as often, as they spend 40 minutes per day on the site ( So what exactly compels us to spend so much time scrolling through newsfeeds, liking and commenting on posts, and sharing content? Certainly, the site must offer an outsize emotional benefit to justify the hours, days, and weeks we spend staring at the screen. Recent psychological research has sought to identify exactly what those emotional and psychological rewards are.

Not many people would equate getting recognition on Facebook with enjoying a luxurious dinner or receiving a fortune. But our brains may process them equally, according to one study. Receiving positive feedback on Facebook activates the brain’s nucleus accumbens, which also processes rewarding feelings about food, sex, money, and social acceptance. This effect increases with the intensity of one’s Facebook usage.

Other studies have also investigated why people like, comment, and share content on Facebook ( These studies garnered some fascinating findings that hold relevance for marketers seeking to master Facebook.

Why We Like

44% of Facebook users “like” a post at least once per day, with 29% of them doing so several times per day. Several lines of research have identified four key reasons driving all of these likes.

  1. Approval

A 2 week experiment documented on Medium confirmed that:

The “Like” is the wordless nod of support in a loud room. It’s the easiest of yesses, I-agrees, and me-toos. I actually felt pangs of guilt over not liking some updates, as though the absence of my particular “Like” would translate as a disapproval or a withholding of affection. I felt as though my ability to communicate had been somehow hobbled. The Like function has saved me so much comment-typing over the years that I likely could have written a very quippy, War-and-Peace-length novel by now

  1. Self-affirmation

“Likes” frequently serve as a form of self-expression. Through “likes”, users often affirm personal traits. One study demonstrated the self-affirming aspect of liking by looking at users’ “likes” and guessing their gender, political party, sexual orientation, and age. Over 75% of their guesses were correct.

  1. Empathy

Similarly, people also “like” posts to express empathy, either toward a person or a way of thinking

  1. Practicality

Probably most relevant to marketers is the practical aspect of “liking”- people often like posts because they offer something in return. When asked why liked brands on Facebook, discounts, regular updates, and contest entry opportunities were among the most common responses.

Why We Don’t Like

Just as posts can invoke feelings of approval, empathy, and interest, posts can also antagonize and offend. Companies in particular have attracted criticism for pushing paid ads onto unwilling customers. Most people naturally want to preserve the “social” aspect of Facebook, which underpins their reasons for not liking brands on Facebook. They don’t want their timelines cluttered with content unrelated to their relationships, nor do they want to give their information to people they do not know. Interestingly, respondents also seem mindful of how their liking patterns affect their friends’ experiences.

Why We Comment

The purpose of posting comments is clear: to express one’s opinion.  But even receiving comments can trigger psychological and emotional responses. . A study of 1,200 Facebook users found that personal messages are more satisfying to receivers than the one-click communication of likes. These “composed communications” were linked to lower feelings of loneliness, especially if the comments were publically visible.

This conclusion holds important implications for social media marketers. Because receiving comments incites such positive emotions, marketers should regularly and warmly engage with comments left by followers. Replying to positive comments can amplify the commenter’s affinity for your brand, which increases the likelihood that they recommend your brand to others. Depending on the situation, responding to negative comments can validate the commenter’s negative feelings and potentially ameliorate a bad situation.

Why We Share

The sharing function holds special importance to marketers, as it multiplies a post’s reach without any additional cost to the marketer. But what exactly makes a post “shareable”?

“High share” content tends to trigger high arousal emotions like amusement, fear, or anger whereas posts inducing sadness or contentment generate less traffic. Another study has confirmed this finding by concluding that people are most likely to share content that they find interesting, important, or funny. Sharing also enables people to express their beliefs and opinions to others, which fosters valuable feelings of self-validation.

People are more driven to share by these emotional factors than by recommending a specific product, which marketers should consider when crafting content. They even also less motivated by supporting a cause or organization. The uniqueness of a post is least motivating of all, which should detract social media marketers from sacrificing quality for shock value.

To some extent, we’re hardwired to like Facebook. On Facebook, we express ourselves, validate our beliefs, gain positive social recognition, and connect with others. This secret psychology motivates its users to spend countless hours perusing through the site. Mastering it can allow you to maximize your personal and professional relationships on the platform.

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