The Pleasure of the Tweet

David Linden: It turns out that we humans are hardwired to get a pleasure buzz from uncertainty.  You might think that when you gamble, you only see the pleasure circuit of the brain activated when you win.  And that’s not true.  So imagine if we have you in a brain scanner, and we’ve got a little video roulette wheel up on the screen. And it spins, and then the ball falls into the roulette wheel slot, and you win or you lose. 

Well, it turns out that if we image your brain in that interval that while the ball is spinning on the roulette wheel, you have increasing activation of your pleasure circuit.  You’re not just getting pleasure when you win; you’re actually getting a pleasure buzz during that period of uncertainty. 

Now, I think that has a real important implication for email, text messaging, instant messaging and Twitter.  So what happens?  You’re walking down the street, your phone buzzes or beeps in your pocket.  You pull it out.  You look on your Smart Phone and you’ve got a message and then you get to read it.  Well, the buzz in your pocket is signaling you’re going to get information pretty soon.  You don’t know what it is, but you’re going to get it.  And I think if we had you in a brain scanner during the time when you’re getting that out of your pocket and you’re opening up your phone and you’re getting to look at… we would see that same slow mounting activation of your pleasure circuitry that we see while the ball was spinning in the roulette wheel.  And then depending on what the message is, well, that might be either pleasurable or not pleasurable depending on the content of the message. 

But I think uncertainty and our predisposition for liking it is central to the addictive, pleasurable quality of modern electronic messaging. 


Directed by Jonathan Fowler
Produced by Elizabeth Rodd

Do digital media have any sweeping, unique pleasure-giving qualities? David J. Linden, Professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says the effect is a lot like the pleasure we get from gambling.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

In a first for humankind, China successfully sprouts a seed on the Moon

China's Chang'e 4 biosphere experiment marks a first for humankind.

Image source: CNSA
Surprising Science
  • China's Chang'e 4 lunar lander touched down on the far side of the moon on January 3.
  • In addition to a lunar rover, the lander carried a biosphere experiment that contains five sets of plants and some insects.
  • The experiment is designed to test how astronauts might someday grow plants in space to sustain long-term settlements.
Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

Love in a time of migrants: on rethinking arranged marriages

Arranged marriages and Western romantic practices have more in common than we might think.

Culture & Religion

In his book In Praise of Love (2009), the French communist philosopher Alain Badiou attacks the notion of 'risk-free love', which he sees written in the commercial language of dating services that promise their customers 'love, without falling in love'.

Keep reading Show less