Friday, July 2, 2010

Can Facebook and Twitter make you a nicer person?

I did not go to graduate school to become a blogger. The transition from high school guidance counseling to online mental health awareness promotion has been strange, but largely enjoyable. Although I have found this experience fun and exciting, many I know in the human services field have questioned this career shift. I was recently asked "By only supporting teens online as opposed to working with teens face-to-face, don't you think you are cutting out all human emotion and compassion from the equation?"

Oxy-who? Oxytocin is also known as the cuddle hormone. Know that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you hug or kiss someone? That's oxytocin. Ever hear about how mother and child bond during breastfeeding? Once again, oxytocin is responsible.

So what does this have to do with tweeting? Paul J. Zak at Claremont Graduate University discovered that interacting with people via social media causes oxytocin levels to rise substantially while simultaneously decreasing stress hormones. In other words, using Twitter and Facebook to connect with people releases those same feel-good chemicals you would get by hanging out in person.

So how does this make you a nicer person? According to Zak, research indicates that people are more empathetic when their oxytocin levels go up. They may be more kind, fair, and honest. Also, these results last about an hour after the initial social media interaction occurred!

The Sonoma County Peer Outreach Coalition is on both Facebook and Twitter! I wish I could say that posting to our page or following our tweets will make you a nicer person...but alas, Zak's sample size was a bit too small for us to consider this as credible research.

If nothing else, checking out our social media will leave you will that delightful, warm and fuzzy feeling you get from oh-so-wonderful oxytocin...and you never have to leave your computer or change out of your pajamas! No worries; we don't judge and we don't tell. We are pretty happy here at the POC. It must be all that Facebooking/tweeting/blogging we do!

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