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Why we love to talk about ourselves Add to ...

Endless status updates on Facebook and tweets about our every mundane thought or activity often seem like so much wasted time. So you’re out getting your favourite coffee – who cares? But scientists at Harvard may have explained why we talk about ourselves so much: It makes us feel good.

In an experiment conducted by Diana Tamir, a psychology graduate student who led the research, scans showed that the brain’s reward circuits lit up when study participants talked about themselves. It turns out the same brain circuits that are fired by food and money are also triggered by self-disclosure, even when it is something as seemingly insignificant as telling others whether you like Dr. Seuss books. No wonder social media is awash in so much prattling on about ourselves.

“This helps to explain why people so obsessively engage in this behaviour. It’s because it provides them with some sort of subjective value. It feels good, basically,” Ms. Tamir told U.S. News & World Report.

As much as 40 per cent of what you say is about you in some way, according to researchers.

“Self-disclosure is a behaviour that we do all the time, day in and day out. When you talk to people, they’ll often talk about themselves,” Ms. Tamir said. “On Twitter and Facebook, people are primarily posting about what they’re thinking and feeling in the moment. This is one piece of evidence about why we may do that.”

In another experiment, researchers also found that even when money was on the line, participants were willing to accept a 17 per cent loss of potential earnings if it meant they could talk about themselves. When the compensation levels were equal for answering three sets of questions – a fact-based question, a question about themselves or a question about another person – participants chose to answer questions about themselves more than two-thirds of the time.

So why do we enjoy talking about ourselves so much? Is it just shallow egoism? Maybe not. Paul Zak, founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University, in California, told U.S. News & World Report that the study’s findings may shed light on how we as humans evolved.

“If a social creature did not disclose information, then other creatures might stop interacting with it. Animals do this with smells and movements, and humans do this with language. This study reveals how our brain evolved to motivate sociality, which is pretty cool,” he said.

What do you think? Is talking about oneself an attempt to be sociable, or is it just egoism?

Follow on Twitter: @Dave_McGinn

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