Out in the Open

Your brain on likes: The science of oversharing online

Can our brains be held accountable for all the oversharing we do on social media?
U of Miami researchers wanted to know if there's a connection between Facebook likes and gender, age, and education. (Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

Why do some of us feel compelled to share the details of our private lives on the internet? We turn to science to get an explanation of what goes on in our brains when we share online. 

According to California State University professor Ofir Turel, our never-ending quest for Facebook likes and Instagram hearts is an example of something called a "reward-motivated behavior."

"Basically, if someone 'likes' you on the internet, it's equivalent to someone smiling at you, acknowledging that you exist, telling you that they care about what you did," Turel told Out in the Open producer Debbie Pacheco. "It's some sort of virtual empathy."

As it turns out, when someone presses that thumbs-up button on our Facebook post, our brain's reward system signals to the brain that it's happy; it releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which is also responsible for motor control and other hormone release systems. 

And what really fires up our brains is that you never know how many likes you're going to get. "The brain doesn't like constant rewards." Turel explained. "If you knew that for every picture you post, you get 300 rewards, it wouldn't be that exciting to check."

So for those of us who are guilty of oversharing, perhaps this isn't all our fault: we just want some virtual empathy.