Why we share

Why do you do coffee? Is it only for the beverage or is it at least as much for shared company? If it is for the company, have you ever asked yourself what is so good about talking about life with someone else? Why do you do it? Going a step further, when you “chat” with someone do you enjoy hearing them tell you of their experiences, or is it your chance to talk that is the more enjoyable? New research suggests that your brain is hard-wired to do enjoy talking about yourself.

Harvard researchers used an MRI to measure brain activity in people when they were talking about themselves and found that there was increased activity in what is called the “mesolimbic dopamine system”. This system includes the nucleus accumbens, the ventral tegmental area, and the neurotransmitter dopamine.

Dopamine is associated with feelings of reward, euphoria, and satisfaction. It is also linked to other areas of gratification like food, money, and sex. Studies have shown that a damaged tegmental area does not lead to an inability to learn new things but a reduced motivation to do so because the reward centres of the brain are not functioning. Blood flow increased significantly to tegmental area when people talked about themselves.

An interesting side-light is that as part of the experimental design the subjects were offered money to talk about a political figure or they could talk about themselves without being paid. People gave up at least 25 per cent of their possible earnings from the trial in order to talk about themselves. So it seems the old phrase, “a penny for your thoughts” undervalues the pleasure derived from talking about yourself.

The end conclusion though is that self-disclosure has intrinsic value for human beings and is a reward in itself. Oprah has made herself a tidy career based on this but why should it be so? Maybe it is simply a part of building social bonds but more likely the sharing process helps your own brain process experiences and therefore supports your own learning process. Either way it explains exactly why we all love the sound of our own voice.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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