April 14, 2013

How Facebook Turned Me into a Science Experiment. ~ Maren Hasse

Back in my early 20s, I learned all about Pavlovian conditioning in my undergrad psychology courses.

You know the experiments I am talking about—Pavlov (the scientist) conditioned (a.k.a. trained) a bunch of dogs to salivate to the sound of a bell after repeatedly pairing the bell with food on previous trials.

In other words, he demonstrated that a physical response (salivation) could be triggered by an outside stimulus (the bell) if the environmental conditions (pairing the bell with food) were sufficient.

So what the heck does this have to do with Facebook?

In January and February of this year, I began to lose interest in Facebook. The odd thing was, I didn’t notice my loss of interest at first, but by the end of February, I had gone from a once-every-20-minute habit to a once-every-few-days habit.

It probably would have gone on like that if I hadn’t decided to post some of our vacation pictures to my account. Not one person commented.

Given the fact that this was highly unusual, I was curious enough to check into it further. After a bit of digging around in my settings, I realized that everything I had posted over the past two months had only been shared with one person.

At first, I didn’t take the time to dwell on this realization, I was simply happy that I had figured it out. After changing my settings, I re-posted my pictures to my account and, sure enough, a few minutes later those little numbered red flags at the top of the page were lighting up like a Christmas tree.

That’s when it hit me.

Facebook is Pavlov. Me? I’m the dog.

You heard me, and if you have an active Facebook account, it’s probably happening to you to.

When you get further into behavioral studies and analysis, it is enlightening to find out that the kind of conditioning that we are exposed to via social media is actually the most addictive kind: intermittent reinforcement. (Facebook is taking the rap for this one, but all modes of social networking, even e-mail, are culpable).

What this means is that the reward isn’t offered with each pairing. (With my example of social media, a reward would be any kind of acknowledgement that the user finds reinforcing or rewarding, whether it be those little red flags on Facebook or the ‘you have mail’ voice on AOL).

In other words, you aren’t greeted with little red flags every time you log on to Facebook. Actually, you have no idea when you will be rewarded, so you keep checking back, just in case—this is what is meant by intermittent. There is no predictable schedule.

By the way, slot machines are another example of intermittent reinforcement.

I’ll bet you are wondering if I closed down my Facebook account as soon as I realized all of this, refusing to play my part anymore, no longer willing to exert my conditioned response.

The answer is no, I haven’t. I still log on five to 25 times per day looking for that quick little hit of red-flag goodness.

What is it that I am looking for exactly? Well, I am an Integrity Coach, so I will have to answer truthfully on this one. I am looking for confirmation. I am looking for affirmation.

I am wanting to know that what I say, think or do matters.

Don’t we all? Isn’t that how we all want to feel?

Despite my Pavlovian behavior, I know that Facebook isn’t the answer. I know that it makes no difference if two or 2,000 people comment on or like my post. These things do not define me. They do not determine whether or not I matter.

This knowing comes from within. I am the only person who can truly affirm my worth.

And I do. Daily. By sitting still. Breathing and listening. Simply being.

Committing to this practice for 15 minutes every day, has been invaluable for me.

It is because of this practice that I can love the part of myself that still needs affirmation…in the form of little red flags.


Maren Hasse is a life coach, facilitator and author of the upcoming book FIERCE Integrity: A Course in Living Your Truth. Her mission and passion in life is to assist others in seeing the truth of themselves; to realize that who they really are is so much better than who they think they should be. You can find her on her website or send her an e-mail at: [email protected]


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Asst. Ed: Amy Cushing/Kate Bartolotta

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