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BizReport : Social Marketing : June 03, 2016

Social media 'Likes' as rewarding as chocolate among teens

A large number of 'Likes' is as rewarding as winning money or eating chocolate to a teenager, according to new study from the University of California, Los Angeles.

by Helen Leggatt

Analyzing the brain activity of 32 teenagers found that getting lots of 'Likes' on an image they, or their friends, post on social media results in increased activity in a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens which is part of the brain's reward circuitry.

The same brain circuitry is activated by other rewarding activities such as eating chocolate or winning money.

The study included 32 teens, 13 to 18 years old, looking at social media. They had functional MRI (fMRI) scans while looking at photos and the number of Likes the photos received. Each of the teens submitted 40 of the photos they were shown while undergoing fMRI. In reality, the researchers controlled the number of Likes each photo received, but this was not revealed to the participants.

The study also found that when teens were deciding whether to indicate they liked a photo, they were highly influenced by the number of Likes the photo already had.

"We showed the exact same photo with a lot of likes to half of the teens and to the other half with just a few likes," said study lead author Lauren Sherman, a researcher in the University of California, Los Angeles' Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center. "When they saw a photo with more likes, they were significantly more likely to like it themselves. Teens react differently to information when they believe it has been endorsed by many or few of their peers, even if these peers are strangers."

According to another of the study's authors, Mirella Dapretto, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA's Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior, the findings reveal an impressionability among teenagers that could prove dangers.

"That opens up the possibility of a child being more influenced by people who may engage in more risk-taking behavior than your child or your child's immediate friends," said Dapretto.

Tags: research, social media, teenagers

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