Dopamine: Social Media and the Addiction of Likes

This is a heavy topic, and not one that I may normally approach on my personal photography blog. But there has been a lot going on in my photography groups recently, as well as in the world of photography that has compelled me to write this. I hope that it in some way my meager ramblings are something that provokes thought, something that you can take and mull over and think about as you approach your year in photography. As always in my blogs I attempt to write in a manner that is up-lifting and encouraging. If I am criticizing the photography industry, know that I am a part of it, and I fall prey to these things myself.

Some people may argue that social media has negative consequences, others that it is a positive element in our lives. We can stay connected with friends across the globe, we can make new friends and go and meet them. That really is something incredible. For those of us in the photography business, we have an amazing way to have our work seen. We can post a photo to Instagram and with the right hashtags we start seeing the likes rolling in. That something inside of us feel rewarded. People like our work. Some thing with Facebook and Twitter. We create a post and are instantly rewarded. 

Dopamine is the chemical in our brain associate with stimulus and reward/ the pleasure center of our brain. Dopamine is not only about pleasure and reward, but about learning and memory. The reward of having our image or post "liked," shared, or commented on is something that our brain soon learns. It is validating. When we see the little red dots on our phone, or open up Facebook and see the notifications lit up, it does the same thing to our brain we begin to have a conditioned stimulus. We have set the expectation of a reward by posting, and once we see the notifications and likes we are rewarded. Dopamine is released because we seek out the reward. Recent research shows that more activity happens in the brain when we are anticipating a reward. 

Dopamine and social media have another relation. Uncertainty/unpredictability.

We create a post, an image, we compose our "Shakespearian" 140 characters. Complete with wit and hashtags. But what we cannot control, what we cannot know is the response that people will have. They may like it and we see that red heart pop up with a number next to it, 10, 60, 200. We see comments, and maybe even gain a few followers. But, what happens if a post only gets 15 likes. What happens if an epic image with a gorgeous couple, a canoe, mountains, flower crowns, and "tones to die for" doesn't reach that 300/ 1000/ whatever amount needed to be featured. What do we get. Dopamine. We always still get dopamine. 

According to Mauricio Delgado, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Rutgers University, “The same brain areas [that are activated for food and water] are activated for social stimuli." This means that our brain sees this social media stimuli as a necessity. 

As people who are photographers, this is something that we deal with on a daily basis. It starts out with wanting to get our work seen, to promote our business, and to grow as artists. But then the Dopamine sets in, and instead of creating content that lets our creative soul breathe, we work to create content that is accepted that will get featured, and that will get us the likes. Sure it falls in line with part of our vision, but from what I see in the photo groups I am a part of is that people are worried more about engagement, and likes then they are about creating. Just my opinion. 

But, think about the recent infatuation with Instagram PODs. For one they are a pain in the A$$ to keep up with just to build engagement, and most of it is fake engagement. But also they feed the dopamine like the ferocious beast that it is, as you use more the brain needs more. 

So why write all this? Just to rip on photographers and social media? No, that is not my intent. Events in my life lately have shown me the powerful effect of dopamine on my brain. It feeds a lot of how I have operated in the past 8 years of my life. Most of it not for the good. I have noticed that recently, after re-installing the Facebook app on my phone, that I have become addicted to checking it. I do not have the notification on, but I will open it up multiple times an hour just to check. I deleted the app last year, but then once I moved back to Colorado and booking season started I installed it again so I could try and put my name in for referrals. 

The phone and social media is something that I have seen starting to take over my life. I make efforts to leave it behind, or to not take it out in certain settings but it still is there. Like a weight in my pocket. 

I guess I wrote this to provoke thought. To hopefully make you aware of what happens, and why, and to maybe reflect on what is happening. You may read this and think that it is ridiculous, or that it is not you at all, and it may not be. 

But, just take a moment and don't worry about the likes. 

(BTW, I get the irony of writing this and posting it on social media).