When I first saw the headline for this FastCompany article a month ago, “Social Networking Affects Brains Like Falling in Love”, I thought, “hmmm, that’s interesting!”. The article was a pretty fun jaunt into the work of Neuroeconomist Paul Zak who has indeed been doing some pretty interesting studies with the “cuddle hormone” Oxytocin. I’d heard plenty about Oxytocin before — it’s one of many favorite topics covered in popular neuroscience books. Oxytocin has been dubbed the “cuddle hormone” because it plays a major role in bonding. Pair-bonding, parent-child bonding, and so on.
Paul Zak and other researchers do studies to find out why, when, and how Oxytocin is released to better help us understand how humans (and animals) bond.
That’s what this article was about. Paul Zak’s research. We are taken through the details of three studies. It is the third “study” that was picked up by Social Media, right up to the top Honcho Mashable who published a post, “Social Media Increases “Cuddle” Chemical Production in the Brain“. Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere were ablaze with the idea that using Social Media released the same hormone that makes us fall in love.
Too bad that study never happened. That’s right. That third study was not a study at all. The author, Adam L. Penenberg, and Paul Zak thought it would be “fun” to run an experiment to see what would happen to Adam’s Oxytocin levels after he spent a few minutes on Twitter. Lo and behold, Adam’s Oxytocin levels went up 13.2% after just 10 minutes spent on Twitter. And while this is fascinating to consider, ONE test subject who is AWARE of what is being measured and for what reason DOES NOT MAKE A STUDY!
So while it’s a happy little idea that engaging in Social Media raises our levels of the “cuddle hormone”, and maybe even a likely possibility, we just don’t know if that’s actually true or not.
Be careful out there on the Interwebs folks!