In a study at UCLA, teenagers had their brains scanned while viewing pictures they had submitted. The more likes their photos had received, the more the reward circuitry in their brain lit up like a firework, much in the way that same area responds to chocolate, sex, and hard drugs. For people, attention (validation's slutty sibling) can easily turn into pleasure-seeking behavior and, eventually, full-blown addiction. To our poor, stupid monkey brains, this is completely tribal. We see how many likes and comments and shares our posts get compared to those of other people, and we measure ourselves against them. If we have more, we are the king of the jungle. That social media stimulates this primal, addictive part of the brain is no coincidence. Companies like Facebook have never been coy about creating "obsession loops" that keep their users hitting refresh like it's the button that releases the morphine.
Admit it. You want to click those so badly.
However, unlike drugs or cigarettes, there doesn't seem to be anything inherently harmful from getting some internet thumbs-ups, so why aren't we all walking along like smiley happy people, having discovered a whole new way for us to feel good about ourselves? Because internet affirmation is an empty high, a whole lot of baby formula with not a lot of cocaine. According to Dr. Larry Rosen, professor of psychology at California State University at Dominguez Hills, real-life empathy is six times more effective at making people believe they are being supported. And our monkey brain is still advanced enough that it can tell the difference -- so even a retweet storm will often leave us feeling hollow and emotionally malnourished. But on the flip side, a lack of likes hits just as hard as any real-life rejection. Not getting an instant positive click from a friend can quickly lead to feelings of resentment and anger. Many a Kimber-on-Kimber fight has broken out because of a poolside pic that was left unliked.
Like this one from Kimber's J.J. Abrams period.