You hear a lot in this day and age about how we’ve devolved into a culture of ‘over-sharers.’ It’s no longer just the usual suspects, like reality TV stars and sex columnists—between blogging and twitpic-ing and facebook status updates delivered to our 473 nearest and dearest, a whole lot of us are putting way more out there than we, or anyone, used to. But why?
Okay, that may sound like a stupid question. The most obvious answer is ‘Because we can,’ or perhaps, ‘Because we can, and it’s expected that we do.’ Technology gives us the tools to share things way more easily than folks ever could before, and no one wants to be left behind in the digital dust, so to speak. But technology alone doesn’t compel behavior—there has to be something more to it.
Apparently, previous research has shown that heightened emotions lead to sharing information. That makes sense—think about how much you want to talk about a new crush or, alternately, that terrible thing your boss just did. This new study, however, says it doesn’t matter so much about the emotional content of the information (how awesome your crush is, or how mean your boss is); what matters is “how physically or emotionally stimulated” you are when you process it.
In the study, Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger gave people ‘emotion-free’ news articles to read. Some subjects were primed with video clips designed to elicit anxiety or amusement; others were shown ‘low-arousal’ clips designed to produce sadness or contentment. The subjects who had seen the ‘high-arousal’ clips were more likely to want to share the emotion-free news clips with family and friends.
But it wasn’t just being all emotionally charged up that made folks want to share things—physical stimulation worked too (not that sort; get your mind out of the gutter). In Berger’s study, a second group of subjects were asked to either jog in place or sit still for a minute before being given the boring news clips. Seventy-five percent of the jogging bunch decided to share what they read; only a third of the sitting-still group did.
“Whether or not we pass something on may have rather less to do with our careful evaluation of the quality or worth of a piece of information than we think,” University of Exeter social psychologist Kim Peters says of the findings. “What we share may have as much to do with the stimulation provided by the environment as with the information itself.”
Finally—an answer to the age-old question of why women in bar- or nightclub restroom lines seem willing to tell one another their whole life stories! Although alcohol might be more to blame for that one…
I think the logical conclusions of this research are clearly: 1) Don’t jog and blog, 2) Do not watch funny You-Tube clips when you have secrets to keep, and 3) whatever you do, don’t do anything stimulating before talking to your mother. Now: To get Bravo stars and politicians to read this study …