Social Commerce

Why People Share: It’s the Mesolimbic Dopamine System, Stupid – and it’s worth $0.63

Understanding why people share stuff in social media is key to unlocking sales in social commerce; social media communicates social influence and social influence creates social sales.  And a new study by Harvard psychologists Diana Tamir and Jason Mitchell has just found out why we share – it’s the mesolimbic dopamine system.

Bypassing the neurobabble (read the study here), what the study found was that the area of the brain responsible for outputting the ‘pleasure chemical’ (the neurotransmitter dopamine that makes us feel pleasure) is activated when we talk about ourselves.  Which is probably why 30-40% of everything you ever say will be about you.  Your Mesolimbic Dopamine System means you get a chemical kick about talking about yourself.  It’s also probably why 80% of your social media output will be vanity posts about you.  Talking about yourself is verbal masturbation and you’re addicted. You’re hardwired to spread your memes as well as your genes.

In a nutshell, the psychologists found this out by getting people to talk about themselves and then about others whilst having their brain scanned (fMRI) and then by getting them to do cognitive tests Bottom line? Lots of pleasure chemical when talking about ourselves, not a lot when talking about other.  And if asked, we’d rather fill out an unpaid survey about ourselves than get paid to fill out a survey about facts or others. In fact, the premium we give on talking about ourselves over talking about others turns out to be $0.63.  Our minds might want privacy, but our brains want self-disclosure – and we’re willing to pay for it.

So what does all this mean for social commerce?  Simple, if you want to shift stock with social media get people to talk about themselves, not your products.  Your product should feature, but it’s the support role, not the leading role.

In the world of social commerce, the t-shirt wisdom “it’s all about me” holds true.  (thanks to Ed White, from the fabulous Contagious Magazine, for the heads up on this study).


Today’s article is sponsored by Milyoni: The Leader in Social Entertainment


Chartered psychologist specialising in consumer behaviour, wellbeing and technology. Certified CX professional experienced in Design Thinking. A researcher, writer and speaker, Paul is head of Digital Insight at SYZYGY.

13 Comments Add New Comment

  1. Check out this site is so awesome! It is a social commerce site with a conscience. They reward users and their favorite charities every time a purchase is made online, even on groupon! So now I can purchase things I normally purchase through the Voucherry channel and give 2% back to my favorite charity all at the same time without any extra money out of pocket. Check it out!

  2. Hey Paul, I referenced this article in my show today on Creating Contagious Content, and I just wanted to thank you for writing this awesome article.

    I’d love to keep featuring articles like this one, I’m @elijahryoung on Twitter.

    Oh, here’s a link to the show if you want to check it out:

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