Is Self-Disclosure In Social Networks Like Masturbation?

Alina Turgend writes about bragging and the way it stimulates the part of our brains linked to stimulation from sex.

Alina Turgend,  The Etiquette of Celebrating or Bragging About Achievements

Last year, two Harvard neuroscientists published a paper, “Disclosing Information About the Self Is Intrinsically Rewarding,” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They conducted brain imaging and behavioral experiments and found that when people talked about themselves, there was heightened activity in the same brain regions associated with rewards from food, money or sex.

Diana I. Tamir, co-author of the study and a doctoral student at Harvard, said the research focused not on bragging, but on answering neutral questions about one’s personality.

“When asked questions about themselves, there was more reward activity than when asked about someone else,” Ms. Tamir said. And there was even more activity when the participants could choose to share information, by pressing a button, with someone outside the scanner.

Another experiment found that people were willing to give up small amounts of money to reveal information about themselves, rather than talk about someone else.

“I think there is a natural human tendency” to talk about oneself, Ms. Tamir said. “The interesting question is why we are motivated to share.”

Another interesting question is when sharing turns into bragging — and the answer is often in the eye of the beholder. As one commenter wrote on the Canadian, “I wonder if it’s sharing if I do it and bragging if someone else does it.”

Although boasting may seem more acceptable now, Susan A. Speer, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Manchester in England, has found that “self-praise” is still largely considered unacceptable.

Professor Speer, a conversation analyst, looked at a variety of data, from psychiatric interventions to everyday conversations, that involved self-praise. The information came from the United States and Britain.

In her study, published last year in the Social Psychology Quarterly, Professor Speer discovered that in almost every case, directly praising oneself seemed to violate social norms.

She said people responded to self-praise negatively or, more subtly, with a long silence or a roll of the eyes.

She found that the only way to really blow your own horn — or toot your own trumpet, as they say in Britain — without alienating someone was to repeat something positive someone else said about you.

It’s easier for a listener to respond to this kind of self-praise, Professor Speer said, by saying, for instance, “How nice someone said that.”

Even being self-deprecating about accomplishments doesn’t work. In fact, it can be even more irritating, and it has come to be known as “humblebragging” or “underbragging.”

Examples? Complaining about e-mail service from Cannes or about having to sign too many autographs. As Henry Alford wrote in The New York Times last November about his annoyance with this phenomenon: “Outright bragging expects to be met with awe, but humblebragging wants to be met with awe and sympathy.”

I’m all for masturbation – after all its been shown that having more orgasms prolongs life, not to mention the immediate benefits – but it’s one of those things that’s best done behind closed doors. So, let’s cut back on the bragging, especially underbragging.

I am personally trying a strategy for cutting back. I am retiring anecdotes: once I tell anyone an anecdote that could be construed as braggage, I then plan to not tell that anecdote again for at least a year. 

Did I ever tell you about the time I…?

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