Why are we comfortable talking to the people on social media which is a virtual world? Is it purely psychological? Let us see!
After cursing about sitting long hours in front of the desktop in office affecting our health, what do all of us do right after we reach home? Well! We get glued to the same desktop within no time checking out our social media pages and chatting with our friends which is the greatest irony of our lives. Most of us are interested in communicating with people somewhere on the virtual medium, but our words fail to communicate with the people living inside the four walls with us.
Why is it that most of us feel comfortable talking to someone online and hesitate to initiate a face-to-face conversation? Are we so very addicted to our fingers tapping on the phones and keyboards or is it something psychological that affects our comfort levels when we talk to someone on social media? Let’s find out!
Social interaction, theory of mind and emotional involvement
One of the most efficient platforms to study the psychological inference is the ultimatum game! What is this ultimatum game? The ultimatum game is a game that is a part of economic experiments. In this match, the first player (the proposer) receives a sum of money and proposes how to divide the amount between him/her and the other player. The proposer is free to choose any division he/she wants. The other player either accepts or rejects the offer. On the rejection of the proposal, none of the players get a single pie.
Sanfey et al. (2003) which is one of the most praised articles in the field of Behavioral Economic analysed the brain processes behind recipients’ responses to unfair offers. It carried out this experiment with the computer as a proposer and then a human as a proposer. It is interesting to note that the rejection of the unfair offers made by humans was at a higher rate than that of the proposals made by the computer.
What exactly does this analysis tell us? This study posed a view that the reactions of the participants to the unfair offers made by machine were less emotionally intense compared to the emotional reactions the participants had towards humans!
These are not just mere findings but were supported by neuroimaging results. The neuroimaging results show that the magnitude of activation in regions of the brain that is known to be involved in negative emotional states like pain and distress were greater for low human offers in comparison to the unfair offers made by the computer.
The question we have here is how is all this related to our increasing comfort levels on social media?
Reason behind increasing comfort level on Social Media
The most astonishing fact about human social perception is our tendency to build models of other minds, which we automatically do without being consciously aware of it. This helps us make inferences about the mental state of others. When we talk to someone face-to-face, we cannot help keep wondering what they are thinking about, what their facial expressions mean, what their intentions are, and so on. Did you ever feel so?
This inclination is what makes social interactions so demanding! Thus, this suggests that interaction with human counterparts requires a great deal of emotional involvement than interacting with a computer. When we communicate with another person, it is highly impossible for us to control our emotional involvement invested in the interaction process. The specific areas of the brain get activated automatically once our mental radar detects another person.
When we speak to anyone directly, what is most useful in a conversation is the non-verbal communication. Even a simple Facial expression, the tone of voice, gesture, body language, eye contact, and even the physical distance between two people plays an important role and are the heart and soul of any interaction. We attain the real meaning of the words when complemented by the non-verbal communication. Nonverbal signals add a level of depth to the interaction but demand cognitive and emotional effort.
Online interactions, on the other hand, do not require this extra effort because they are founded on minimal or constrained social cues, most of which can be summed up in emoticons or punctuation. People in online interactions are much more casual because they do not have to be attentive to each other’s signals.
Observing others in a particular emotional state automatically triggers the representation of that state in the observer. This phenomenon is believed to support our ability to understand social interaction; Sharing others’ emotional states facilitates our understanding and prediction of their intentions and actions because emotions make individuals feel, act and view the world in a similar fashion.
In contrast, online interactions are devoid of emotions. There is always an uncertainty on how people react to what you say. Interpretation of a simple ‘Oh!’ from the other person is made in many ways!
Social media – the virtual form of interaction
Interactions via social media make us feel connected with the other person without any difficulties and complexities that are involved in face-to-face interactions. But compared to interactions with computers, interactions with in person require more emotional involvement, cognitive effort and brain activation. There are times when we don’t want to exercise these resources; say an after a hectic working day. We too often choose the easier option, the virtual option. Which option do you choose?