Sunday, September 4, 2011

The 6th Legal Addiction

The 6th Legal Addiction
The FDA currently recognizes 5 substances as being both legal and addictive:
Legal Addictive Substances:
  1. Caffeine 
  2. Nicotine 
  3. Alcohol 
  4. Meds: Aspirin & Prescription Drugs 
  5. Sugar 

Reading the definition above, and in my profession as a social media marketer, I am more and more convinced that we have discovered the 6th legal addictive substance. Social media websites like Facebook and Twitter fit the description of an addictive substance perfectly. In fact, psychologists are currently debating an additional substance called IVR that would be attributable to a line of “behavioral addictions” including compulsive shopping, kleptomania, overeating, problem gambling and Twitter usage. Research has shown that engaging in social media activities stimulates the same neurological pleasure sensors of the brain, releasing alpha waves and endorphins into the system, as cocaine, heroine and sexual activity.

Skinner's Box
In the 1960’s, famed behavioral scientist B.F. Skinner, originator of “pavlovian training” and “conditioned response,” ran experiments on animals that determined a type of addictive behavior he called Intermittent Variable Reward (IVR) – A method of behavioral reinforcement conditioned by rewarding action intermittently (as opposed to consistently).

One of his experiments consisted of putting a rat in a cage with a button that it could push to release a food pellet. The rat would at first push the button a few times, and then, gradually get into a pattern of just pushing it when he was hungry. However, Skinner found that if he adjusted the button so that it sometimes gave 1 pellet, sometimes 2, and sometimes no pellets, that the rat would become addicted to the act of pushing the button at the expense of all else; forgetting to eat, to sleep or anything—literally pushing the button until it died.

Classic Behavioral Addictions
This is the same psychological mechanism that makes slot machines so addictive. You see, it’s the “variable” that is exciting to us. It is the “not knowing.” If a slot machine gave you back a $1 every time you inserted $1, it would be like an ATM machine. You'd never get addicted.

There are literally thousands of people right now all over the world who are compulsively clicking the refresh button on their email, Facebook, and Twitter to check if they have been tagged, friended, unfriended or invited to something. The science of intermittent variable reward tells us that we're "addicted" to checking our social media accounts not because we know we'll be rewarded with something interesting, but because we might be.

FUN FACT: There are only 2 industries that refer to their customers as “users:"
1. The internet.      2. Drug dealers.

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