Facebook Use Linked to Brain's Reward Center

THURSDAY, Aug. 29 (HealthDay News) -- How much you like Facebook may be connected to how a certain part of your mind works.

Using MRI scans, German researchers found that activity in the nucleus accumbens -- the reward center of the brain -- was higher after receiving positive social feedback among those who were avid users of the social media site.

"As human beings, we evolved to care about our reputation. In today's world, one way we're able to manage our reputation is by using social media websites like Facebook," wrote study author Dar Meshi, a postdoctoral researcher at Freie University in Berlin. "Our study reveals that the processing of social gains in reputation in the left nucleus accumbens predicts the intensity of Facebook use across individuals. These findings expand upon our present knowledge of nucleus accumbens function as it relates to complex human behavior."

The study, published in the current issue of the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, involved 31 people. The participants were asked about their Facebook use, including how many Facebook friends they had and how much time they spent on the social media site each week. Facebook use varied dramatically among members of the group, the researchers said.

Although their brains were scanned, the volunteers also underwent a video interview. They were told how highly people viewed them, and also saw what people thought about another volunteer. The group also performed a card task to win money.

The study showed that those who received positive feedback had stronger activation of the nucleus accumbens than when they saw another person receive positive feedback. How big this difference was corresponded to the intensity of that person's Facebook use. The researchers pointed out that the card task to win money did not predict use of the social media site.

"Our findings relating individual social media use to the individual response of the brain's reward system may also be relevant for both educational and clinical research in the future," the study authors wrote in a journal news release.

They added, however, that their findings do not determine if positive feedback on social media sites drives people to these sites or if long-term use of these sites alters how the brain processes this feedback.

More information

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke provides more information on the human brain and how it works.

SOURCE: Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, news release, Aug. 29, 2013.

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