There Is Actually Nothing Better in the World Than Talking About Yourself

Harvard psychologists have found that people are so desperate to share random bits of information about themselves (their habits, their likes and dislikes, what, all bullshit aside, they really think of Girls), they are willing to give up ACTUAL FREE MONEY to do it.

As mentioned here, in the LA Times, authors Diana Tamir and Jason Mitchell recently devised a series of five experiments to determine whether the process of disclosing one's own thoughts was intrinsically rewarding.

In each experiment, participants were asked either to discuss their own beliefs and opinions ("self" aka AWESOME questions), to speculate about the beliefs and opinions of another person ("other" aka WAY BORING questions), or to answer a true or false trivia question ("fact" aka LOL RANDOM questions).

Here is an example of each type of question:
Self: How much do you enjoy winter sports such as skiing?
Other: How much does Barack Obama enjoy winter sports such as skiing?
Fact: True or False: Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa.

Using MRI scans, the psychologists found that the regions of the brain associated with reward lit up like a Christmas tree—that you remember from childhood and maybe you would like to share a personal story about it now?—when people got to talk about themselves.

Never mind that a discussion of how much you personally believe Barack Obama enjoys skiing is still, in a roundabout way, talking about yourself.

Tamir and Mitchell also discovered, after assigning monetary values to the questions, that particpants would actually turn down money just to have the opportunity to disclose information about themselves.

That is, they would rather make 1 cent for telling a researcher that summer is their favorite season than make 4 cents speculating on whether Joe Biden prefers flip flop or snowshoe weather. The rewards they were giving up weren't big money by any means—on average, participants only ended up giving up fractions of a cent—but they translated to between 17 and 25% of their potential earnings depending on the specific experiment.

And, honestly, the psychologists probably weren't even dreaming big enough. They could have asked their research subjects to cut them blank checks in exchange for the privilege of being grilled about their favorite member of One Direction (main kid is too smarmy—looking for my taste), and used the resulting millions to fund a thousand more psych experiments. That's called therapy.

Here's the amazing sentence in which the authors summarize those results:

"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."

In their paper, Tamir and Mitchell point out that, while most primates don't attempt to communicate to others what they know, the human propensity for oversharing starts young. By age 9 months, human children "begin trying to draw others' attention to aspects of the environment that they find important," because babies think we're so freaking interested in the shit they have to point out.

A baby trying to show you anything is like a friend telling you about an awesome new song he just heard by this guy named Gotye, which, to bring the conversation back to me, I do not even particularly enjoy.

I'm okay with it up until that first chorus and then I'm just like "Haha, wow, things are getting intense. I'm out."

By the time those cool-hunting babies can talk, 30-40% of their speech is devoted "solely to informing others of their own subjective experiences."

By the time those babies are old enough to create their own HBO original series, 100% of their output is devoted solely to informing others of their own subjective experiences.

Furthermore, the authors estimate that 80% of posts to social media sites (like Twitter) consist of announcements about one's own immediate experiences, for example: "I just read on Gawker that people love talking about themselves LOL #SMH."

On a related attention whore-y note, Tamir and Mitchell found that people enjoyed themselves more and were willing to give up more money when they thought their answers (either about themselves or others) would be shared with another person than when they were told their responses would be kept absolutely private.

In the paper's conclusion, the authors speculate that proclivity for talking about oneself may have adaptive advantages: it strengthens social bonds, and, when others do it to you, eliminates the need to learn firsthand what others already know, saving lots of time and energy.

Most importantly, it lets people know about you and how you're feeling and what you're thinking and do you like it or not like it and what's going on with your life lately, what's up with you.

Bonus crazy psychology article cited in the paper: Apparently, there's slight evidence to indicate people are extra likely to adopt professions and live in cities that resemble the sound of their own name (Dennis is more likely to become a dentist than Phillip, who is more likely to live in Philadelphia than Dennis.).

So:

What is your name and do you like it and do you think it would make a good name for a city or state? How much do you enjoy winter sports such as skiing? How much does Barack Obama enjoy winter sports such as skiing? What is your favorite thing about yourself and also what did you have for dinner tonight?

I had Dunkaroos, but that's just me.

[ Harvard Psychology Department via LA Times // image via Shutterstock]