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We all love Twitter. Because of Science.

December 15, 2010

Oxytocin is a pretty awesome hormone. It has fun aliases like “love hormone” or “hug hormone” because we release it during orgasm, bonding with others, breastfeeding, or just generally taking care of one another.

Also, Tweeting.

According to the science, interacting with people via Twitter causes our brains to release oxytocin the same as if we were talking face to face. In an experiment, journalist Adam Penenberg had his oxytocin levels checked before and after a series of tweets by neuroeconomist Paul J. Zak. The results were dramatic.

In those 10 minutes between blood batches one and two, my oxytocin levels spiked 13.2%. That’s equivalent to the hormonal spike experienced by the groom at the wedding Zak attended. Meanwhile, stress hormones cortisol and ACTH went down 10.8% and 14.9%, respectively. Zak explains that the results are linked, that the release of oxytocin I experienced while tweeting reduced my stress hormones. If that’s the case, says Zak, social networking might reduce cardiovascular risks, like heart attack and stroke, associated with lack of social support. But there’s even more to our findings. “Your brain interpreted tweeting as if you were directly interacting with people you cared about or had empathy for,” Zak says. “E-connection is processed in the brain like an in-person connection.”

Penenberg admitted that he didn’t personally know any of the people he was Tweeting with. Myself, I’ll admit to squeeing when @ThinkGeek followed me and whenever @GrantImahara tweets. I don’t know these people, but there’s something about the medium of Twitter that makes our connection feel so much more personal. Maybe it’s the short amount of space we’re given to tweet that makes it feel more like a conversation. The article continues about the benefit of a large circle of friends.

Other studies support this idea. One Australian experiment discovered that people with a sizable network of friends were less likely to pass away over a 10-year period than those with a small circle of friends — and that the distance separating friends made no difference. Another study showed that people with friends get sick less often than those without. Again, proximity didn’t affect the result. Two researchers from Washington University in St. Louis scanned the brains of fiction readers and discovered that their test subjects created intense, graphic mental simulations of the sights, sounds, movements, and tastes they encountered in the narrative. In essence, their brains reacted as if they were actually living the events they were reading about.

For instance, Grant Imahara recently tweeted, “Cold, tired, and hungry. But we got the damn thing to work… And that is a GOOD day. @Mythbusters at its finest!” And I absolutely felt empathy for him. Okay, so he’s a TV personality that I have a bit of a nerdy crush on, bad example. I’m still falling for all the other random strangers that I follow and want us all to be bestest friends. It’s kind of strange when I think too long about it.

In the article, Penenberg brings up a valid point. How can this information be used to turn a profit? I tend to unfollow those who tweet nothing but commercials for their products. Companies who tweet need to make a more personal connection (like you, ThinkGeek) to raise oxytocin levels and turn us into loving, loyal customers.

Oh, and follow me! Hugs and kisses!

7 Comments leave one →
  1. December 15, 2010 7:47 pm

    That would make sense…I got incredibly excited when Jann Arden ‘followed’ me. And I have that same feeling when I read tweets from all the people I follow. And, thought it’s only happened once or twice, being retweeted or responded too is also a good feeling. I never thought I’d use twitter and now I check it like my email. I enjoyed this article, thank you!…going to go follow you now!! 🙂

    • December 15, 2010 7:55 pm


      Anyhow, I think Twitter (in the case of the tweeps we admire) is another extension of a para-social interaction that holds the possibility to bridge the gap between one sided relationships to two. Which is really thrilling to our little gray cells.

  2. December 15, 2010 10:25 pm

    I have a nerd-crush on Grant too. He needs an estrogen brigade.

    I’ve squeed twice when Mike Brown (@plutokiller) has either replied to or RT’d me. My five year old worships him.

    And really, that’s the thing…I don’t think I’d ever have a chance to speak with Mike Brown otherwise but at least twice now I’ve caught his attention. My daughter sent him a real paper fan letter and he didn’t have time to reply to that (which we TOTALLY understand and didn’t expect), but he had five seconds to RT a joke about Pluto cakeballs. Twitter is immediate, whereas other modes are slow and require thought.

    Twitter levels the field a bit, at least amongst the nerdy-skeptic-science types I read.

    • December 15, 2010 11:20 pm

      I love cakeballs. And I’m not familiar with Mike Brown. But yay science! Thanks!

  3. Laura permalink
    December 15, 2010 11:03 pm

    I totally get this… When I got @ replies from Neil Gaiman and Paula Poundstone, you’d have thought I was the little pig going squeeeee all the way home!

    Glad I found you on Twitter and wandered over here to the blog. Fun stuff!

    • December 15, 2010 11:18 pm

      Jeeeaaalous! And thanks and welcome!

  4. olivia permalink
    December 16, 2010 2:38 am

    I understand this! When the members of a longtime favorite band of mine finally got twitter accounts, the lead singer (who I had a massive crush on when I was younger) followed me back when I added him. I still can’t figure out to this day why he did (I have yet to ask), but it still makes my heart flutter a little when I realise he’s still following me! We’ve had a few DM conversations and he’s @replied me, and it makes me feel 18 years old again :>

    Also when a member of The Mighty Boosh team @replied me, or whenever another member of a favorite band @replies me. They’re not a large band, but enough that I feel flattered whenever we do ‘talk.’ I love that over the yearsm Twitter has been one of the mediums that allows us to interact. I hadn’t heard from him in awhile and got an @reply the other day and it totally made my week!

    I feel happy just thinking about those instances now 🙂

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