Humans get a very distinct biochemical buzz when talking about themselves
Let's talk about you for a minute.
You like to get high, don't you? Well, then you've also probably discovered that getting high is a bunch of unreasonable bullshit. It's a big to-do.
Darknet-ing MDMA from China using a secure VPN and a stolen Gateway laptop. Realizing that what you bought is actually cat antibiotics. Taking the cat antibiotics anyway. Dealing with the next morning's shameover. (Autobiographical? You decide).
Thankfully, there's a cheap, easy and cat antibiotic-free way to get a buzz without any of that bullshit ... and we've been doing it all along.
It's called "rampant, uncontrollable, unbearable narcissism."
Talking about yourself, in other words.
Apparently, talking about yourself is not, as was once previously thought, a way to demonstrate intimacy with others. It's not a way to open up to people and get them to trust you so that you can delicately lay down the foundations for a beautiful friendship. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Instead, we do it, and we do it a lot, because word-vomiting our life stories on some poor barista actually intoxicates our brain. And it does so in the exact same way that sex, food or drugs do.
One Harvard study published in the respected Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences demonstrated this by conducting a series of experiments aimed at quantifying how much people liked talking about themselves and why they do it.
In the first study, researchers scanned participants' brains while they either revealed sensitive personal info about themselves or judged the personalities or opinions of others. In another, they examined whether people preferred to answer questions about themselves, other people or neutral facts. In the last, people's willingness to share their answers to those questions, or keep them to themselves, was assessed.
Humans get a very distinct biochemical buzz from shameless egomania. The more they blabbed about how some days they wake up and just feel like giving it all up to travel, the more the brain areas involved in reward and motivation lit up the MRI like the fucking Jonestown Massacre.
Meanwhile, talking about other people looked a lot more like a C-SPAN town hall on highway median upkeep on the MRI machine — boring as all get out. People's brains were pretty "meh" when prompted to discuss anyone but No.1.
Ah. So that's why we spend 40 percent of the time talking about ourselves in conversations with others — "I'm not really a mashed potato person; I'm more of a baked potato man" — our brains like the attention. They're addicted to it. Physiologically speaking, self-absorbance is like mild, endogenous cocaine, something you might relate to if you've ever felt the miniscule rush of pleasure when someone directs the conversation to your favorite subject: you.
Researchers also noted that people got the biggest kick out of over-sharing if they knew other people were listening.
“[The] effects were magnified by knowledge that one’s thoughts would be communicated to another person, suggesting that individuals ﬁnd opportunities to disclose their own thoughts to others to be especially rewarding,” says the study.
This explains the appeal of things like therapy, journaling, YouTube video-ing and blogging, but most relevantly, it justifies why people are so addicted to self-promoting social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter — there people get high on the rush of personal disclosure before an audience they know has to listen. Ever felt the self-congratulatory gush of pleasure when 29 people like your latest inane #paleobrunch photo? Or the crushing disappointment when the only person to acknowledge its existence is your aunt Nancy who lives in the Bible Belt and has been known to share stories that question whether aliens are currently shepherding the liberal Illuminati into secret space capsules so they can escape the impending singularity?
That's your brain getting high and coming down off your own obsession with yourself.
At any rate, it's fascinating to know that our brains get the same dopamine-heavy rush from narcissism as they do from drugs and cheeseburgers and orgasms. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm scheduled to hold up a line at Trader Joes while I describe what I like about the movie "Hitch" to an unforunate cashier. Wish me luck!