Are Social Media Connections Real?
Using social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook may have more in common with “real” interactions than you think, the experience of one writer suggests.
The brain chemical oxytocin has been known to be associated with emotional bonds. Oxytocin is heightened in a variety of behaviors that involve people connecting with one another, including orgasm, birth, breastfeeding, and pair bonding. That’s why it gets nicknamed “the cuddle hormone.”
Given that this hormone is so important to interpersonal connection, it makes sense that virtual interactions might also bring out the oxytocin effect.
Paul Zak, neuroeconomist at Claremont Graduate University in California, tested this recently on a journalist Adam Penenberg who was writing about Zak’s work for this Fast Company article.
Zak tested Penenberg’s blood before and after he used Twitter for 10 minutes, sending and receiving tweets the whole time. He found that oxytocin levels went up substantially, and that stress hormones went down.
This is great news, because other research has shown that people are more empathetic when their oxytocin levels go up, Zak said. They are more kind, honest and fair to others. In other words, people may be nicer – at least for about an hour – after they’ve been interacting with social media, he said.
There are people for whom too much time interacting online is detrimental, as they ignore or avoid in-person encounters. On the other hand, there are benefits to virtual communication.
“If your goal in life is to be connected to other people, how you connect doesn’t really matter – in person, online, it’s all the same biology of connection,” he said.
Of course, Zak’s sample size is one person, hardly making it a scientific experiment. But if it works so well in one person, there’s reason to believe it will for others too, Zak said.
A lot of people think social media doesn’t create “real” connections. I disagree and so does this article. What I’ve found is the way I use Facebook allows me to connect better with people I already know. Twitter helps me connect with people I don’t know. I as our connection grows stronger, I add them to Facebook as well.
From a business standpoint, I apply the same philosophy to LinkedIn. I’ll connect with just about anybody there because that is my professional profile.