Why? Because blogging strokes my brain!

I’m sometimes asked why I devote so much time to “that silly blog of yours.” When I choose to answer, I say that writing organizes my thoughts, which enhances the pleasure I get from reading. Or I talk about self-expression and social communication.

Now, a series of studies by psychologists at Harvard has uncovered the real reason that people like me write blogs like this: We enjoy talking about ourselves.

Not just enjoy, like “I enjoy a good joke,” but really enjoy, like we enjoy food, money, and sex. Honest to goodness, neural cascade, spike of pleasure enjoy.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, Harvard neuroscientists Diana Tamir and Jason Mitchell recently published their results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Their central finding was both behavioural and physiological evidence that talking about ourselves is a highly desirable — and measurably pleasurable — activity.

In the behavioural test, researchers offered subjects small monetary rewards (one to four cents) if they chose to answer questions about other people rather than questions about themselves. Inevitably, the organizers of the study called it the “penny for your thoughts” test. The result of the exercise was that participants were willing to forego up to 25% of the available reward in order to talk about themselves.

Of course, with rewards this small, an obvious criticism of the study is that there was so little at stake that there was little real incentive to resist self-disclosure. After all, it was just last week that the Canadian government ceased production of the penny, which cost more to make than it was worth. Besides, when was the last time you saw “penny candy” at the corner store? (If you can remember ever having seen penny candy on a grocery store counter, you’re at least as old as I am.)

More substantial results were achieved in a related test, in which subjects underwent fMRI scans while talking about themselves and about others. The scans showed heightened activity in the meso-limbic dopamine system when participants talked about themselves. This brain complex is associated with “the sense of reward and satisfaction from food, money, or sex.”

That’s more like it. Measurable results inspire more confidence than observations do, even if heightened neural blood flow also requires interpretation. At least it’s interpretation of something, and not interpretation of someone’s report or pre-interpretation of something else. Measure and interpret is more empirical — therefore, more desirable — than observe, report, and speculate.

The speculators may suggest that self-disclosure’s pleasurable effects have  been positively selected in the course of our evolution — because this form of communication motivates and enhances the formation of sympathetic social structures, which themselves promote the survival and prosperity of their members. Perhaps, perhaps even likely, but that’s the kind of speculation that evolutionary psychologists like, and that I like to avoid.

All in all, it appears that I don’t blog to communicate, or to clarify, or to express. These are just the post hoc reasons that my rational self creates to make sense of the more basic pleasures associated with self-disclosure.

So next time someone asks me why I keep writing this silly blog, honesty requires me to say, simply, “Because it feels good.”

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