Scientists say chasing social media “likes” makes us like lab rats seeking cheese

It’s already well known that some people are hooked on the positive hit they feel when a random stranger “likes” their social media posts, but a new study shows just how degrading that actually is. 

In short, it turns us into lab rats hunting cheese. 

The connection was made by David Amodio, a professor at New York University and the University of Amsterdam, who conducted a study to prove it. 

Analyzing more than a million posts from over 4,000 users, the team of researchers found the users were demonstrating “reward behavior.” 

That’s a phenomenon that is demonstrated in lab animals, which can be taught to push a lever in exchange for a reward, or avoid touching something if a shock is administered. 

In the case of the social media users, the reward in question was a “like” instead of a rat seeking cheese.

Those whose posts got those likes tended to post more often.

On the flip side, those who received fewer likes didn’t return to the lever, so to speak, as frequently — that is, they tended to post to social media less.

This trend was reflected in an experiment using subjects to post to an Instagram-like platform.

“The findings may help us understand why social media comes to dominate daily life for many people and provide clues, borrowed from research on reward learning and addiction, to how troubling online engagement may be addressed,” says study co-author Amodio in a statement.