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Talking About Yourself is Like Sex

A new study confirms what reality TV show producers figured out long ago—we get off on self-disclosure.

To anyone who has listened to talk radio or watched reality television shows, it’s no surprise that people enjoy sharing their most intimate details, even when millions of viewers are listening.

A new study, though, shows that self-disclosure is hard-wired into our brains. Researchers ran a series of tests involving brain scans, talking about yourself or others, and cash rewards for answering questions.

It turns out that posting on Twitter about your new driveway is likely to activate the reward centers of the brain, the same areas that respond to both sex and food. While these areas light up when going on about ourselves, very little happens when we talk about others.

When people in the study were paid to talk about others, they were still willing to give up some of that money to share juicy details about themselves, up to 17 percent of their earnings. Even when the payouts were equal, participants self-disclosed two-thirds of the time.

“Just as monkeys are willing to forgo juice rewards to view dominant groupmates and college students are willing to give up money to view attractive members of the opposite sex, our participants were willing to forgo money to think and talk about themselves,” the researchers write in the paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The last test—which should probably be known as the Jerry Springer exam—revealed that people are more likely to talk about themselves if they think someone else is listening. In the study, participants gave up 25 percent of their earnings to share their personal details.

This study, of course, explains the popularity of Facebook and Twitter, and even book groups, but what benefit is there to this much self-involved communication? By building social bonds and speeding up the sharing of useful information, say researchers, talking about yourself may support the social activities of humans.

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