Is Facebook Better Than Sex?

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- How does it feel?

Not when you give or receive a poke. How does it feel when you see others "like" your status update or comment "LOL" to your funny picture? Does it make you want to do it again and receive even more "likes" and comments?

A team of researchers recently published their findings in a study asking the question of what it feels like when people share personal information on social media sites like Facebook ( FB), LinkedIn ( LNKD) and Twitter.

Here is what they found: Sharing information is pleasurable. (See my Oops, I Did It Again: Facebook and Zynga Hit New Lows article.)

We all have a Facebook "friend" who update their Facebook page 50,000 times a day. "I am out of bed...I hate Mondays...I can't decide if I should wear the blue shirt or the red one...decided on green...gained half a pound since yesterday's update...need to look at diet plans...driving to the bank...waiting in bank line..." and on and on the updates appear all day long ad nauseam.

People posting countless updates on Facebook are actually not much different than some people at parties. You know the type: People who begin talking the moment they walk in the door until hours later when the door closes behind them as they leave. The difference is you can more easily ignore "friends" on Facebook than at a party.

According to research, we spend 30% to 40% of the time we talk talking about our own subjective experiences. I believe the research percentages must be an average and not hard limits because we all know people on the right side of that bell curve.


Researchers Diana Tamir and Jason Mitchell of Harvard University's Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab conducted a study asking why people are motivated to post personal information on social networks. The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning while asking subjects questions. They wanted to know if using social sites like Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and others stimulated parts of the brain.

After testing the results of almost 80 people, the researchers found specific regions of our brains become active as a result of revealing personal information. One region of interest is the "pleasure center" believed to focus on reward, pleasure and addiction. The mesolimbic dopamine system "pleasure center" includes the nucleus accumbens and the ventral tegmental areas of the brain.

What truly gets our brain's pleasure center working overtime are the usual suspects of food, money, humor, a picture of the opposite sex and, yes, self-disclosing information (hello Facebook).

The dopamine released by a person's brain when a posting of theirs is created, "liked" and commented on by others appears to be proportionate in pleasure with money, food and sex, according to the Harvard researchers' study.

"Two additional studies demonstrated that these effects stemmed from the independent value that individuals placed on self-referential thought and on simply sharing information with others," they wrote. "Together, these findings suggest that the human tendency to convey information about personal experience may arise from the intrinsic value associated with self-disclosure."

To test their theory, the researchers gave subjects a choice of answering questions about facts, others, or themselves. Even when faced with monetary rewards, people wanted to talk about themselves (not a shocking surprise actually). Research in the past has quantified the amount of money people will pay to view attractive members of the opposite sex. Knowing how much people are willing to pay is something Rick's Cabaret ( RICK) figures out on a daily basis, and it's a lot.

Zynga ( ZNGA) provides reasons for people to post updates and stay connected. Zynga has millions of players spending time on their games. Most of Zynga players are from Facebook.


The attraction to play on Zynga is so rewarding, people spend real money to buy virtual cows and other "things" to use in their fantasy online games. Zynga appears to demonstrate, in part, a real-life "experiment" in the amount people will pay for social success.

The question is still up in the air how much value Facebook, Zynga and Linkedin can produce for shareholders. (There is no question about Rick's.) The research appears to support the online social media experience is here to stay.

TheStreet's John Hughes and Scott Maragioglio wrote an interesting Real Money Pro article about Facebook and LinkedIn titled Coming Back Around to Social Media. (You need a Real Money Pro subscription to read, but if you don't have one this is this is a good reason to get one.)

When you walk into the bedroom and your significant other is sitting on the bed with an Apple ( AAPL) iPad typing away on Facebook you will have a better understanding of why.

Maybe the pleasure has already begun.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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