Why We Share Posts on Social Media

Why We Share Posts on Social Media

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Daily brief research updates from the cognitive sciences

social media brain

Is it just pictures of cats that we share on social media? That is a cliché – most of social media does not have post of cats on them and all manner of things are shared.

Emotionality obviously drives much of this – but a group of researchers around Danielle Cosme at the Communication Neuroscience Lab from the University of Pennsylvania have recently published their findings of their study into this question and come up with a slightly different answer.

For this they analysed the behaviour of over 3,000 individuals with regard to content and willingness to share this, over multiple experiments.

These people were exposed to articles on social media posts about health, climate, politics, and COVID-19. They then rated how relevant they thought the articles were to themselves and others and how likely they would share the information.

What they saw is that those who saw the information as self- or socially-relevant were much more likely to share. This may sound obvious, but it shows that sharing is seen as a socially useful tool to spread relevant information. Of interest is also that those in the study who were asked to write out why they thought a message was relevant to themselves or others were more likely to share in contrast to just thinking about it.

The obvious point you may see in the above is that this is likely to create precisely those partisan or information bubbles, whereby people end up sharing to a group of like-minded individuals and only get exposed to one-sided information.

This is true but it also gives agencies clues as to how to engage better with the general public and help to spread quality information quicker and through social networks. For example, by making information more socially relevant to certain groups of people rather than just explaining facts. Also, instead of relying on information being spread by the media, or not, to actively engage networks of people who can share and spread the information further.

This is an important insight and helps give us, and also agencies, more insight into making sure that information gets shared and passed on: make it personally and socially relevant.

And a question to you: is this information, article, relevant to you?

Andy Habermacher

Andy Habermacher

Andy is author of leading brains Review, Neuroleadership, and multiple other books. He has been intensively involved in writing and research into neuroleadership and is considered one of Europe’s leading experts. He is also a well-known public speaker, speaking on the brain and human behaviour.

Andy is also a masters athlete (middle distance running) and competes regularly at international competitions (and holds a few national records in his age category).

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Reference

Danielle Cosme, Christin Scholz, Hang-Yee Chan, Bruce P. Doré, Prateekshit Pandey, José Carreras-Tartak, Nicole Cooper, Alexandra Paul, Shannon M. Burns, Emily B. Falk. 
Message self and social relevance increases intentions to share content: Correlational and causal evidence from six studies.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 2022
DOI: 10.1037/xge0001270

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What Makes Human Brains Different?

What Makes Human Brains Different?

Quick Hits
Daily brief research updates from the cognitive sciences

Those who have followed my writing and articles will know that this is a question that comes up regularly. Just what is different to human brain compared to other species?

The simple answers tend to be partly true but there are multiple answers and they don’t individually explain everything.

For example, we know that our prefrontal cortex – that part of the brain behind your forehead – is particularly large and developed in human beings. We also know that the regions between our cortices are larger in human beings and seem to be involved in many higher-order thinking processes.  We also know that relatively speaking our small brain, the cerebellum that sits at the back of our head, is much larger in human beings.

That is just on size of regions but I also reported previously on a mysterious type of brain cell called Von Economo neurons. So mysterious that only one recording of this cell has been measured. These seem to be present in some species with higher intelligence such as chimpanzees, elephants, and dolphins.

Is there anything else?

Well, this is what these researchers around Shaojie Ma of Yale University set out to explore.

For this they focused on a region called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex because this is unique to primates. They then conducted single cell RNA analysis of hundreds of thousands of cells from humans, chimpanzees, macaques, and marmoset monkeys.

This technique allows much more refined categorisation of cells and can measure genetic differences between cells that may look similar. And I’m sure you will want to know what they found.

They found 109 types of cells that are shared between all primates. Five were not present in all species (only!). One was unique to human beings and chimpanzees, and one was unique to humans only. This was a glial cell – glial cells are considered “helping” or “supporting” cells but have many critical functions in the brain. This seems to be associated with brain upkeep.

The other surprise was they also discovered the FOXP2 gene in this glial cell. A surprise because this gene is associated with language development and is unique to human beings. Various forms of this are also associated with various human conditions such as autism and schizophrenia.

This piece of research is particularly interesting – these techniques open up many more avenues and unprecedented levels of detail of the differences in brains. They also open up new avenues and new mysteries!

So here we can quantify another specific difference in human brains related to glial cells and the FOXP2 gene but this also begs the question – what precisely does FOXP2 do and can this glial cell really make a difference? But then again as I said there are other factors that make human brains different, and it is the combination of these which gives us our unique differences.

But as with the FOXP2 gene when things don’t go according to plan it can also break things and give us our very human disorders also.

But knowing this can also lead us to clearer explanations and solutions – I am watching the space carefully!

Andy Habermacher

Andy Habermacher

Andy is author of leading brains Review, Neuroleadership, and multiple other books. He has been intensively involved in writing and research into neuroleadership and is considered one of Europe’s leading experts. He is also a well-known public speaker, speaking on the brain and human behaviour.

Andy is also a masters athlete (middle distance running) and competes regularly at international competitions (and holds a few national records in his age category).

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Reference

Shaojie Ma, Mario Skarica, Qian Li, Chuan Xu, et al. 
Molecular and cellular evolution of the primate dorsolateral prefrontal cortex
Science, 2022
DOI: 10.1126/science.abo7257

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Brain Centre For Altruism Identified

Brain Centre For Altruism Identified

Quick Hits
Daily brief research updates from the cognitive sciences

heart kindness brain

Love and kindness

We all know that some people are more altruistic than others. Most of us will also admire acts of selfless behaviour. The hero who saves a person, the people who serve others tirelessly on various volunteer projects, and those kind people who always seem to have time to help another soul.

So, if we know some people are more altruistic, it would follow that we should be able to see this in a brain. Some regions have been identified as helping with various social skills such as the medial frontal cortex (I review psychopaths in this article and their brains – the opposite of altruists).

However, a group of researchers at Birmingham University have now been able to identify another region of the brain that seems to be specifically involved when making conscious, and effortful, decisions to help others. This activates differently to decisions to help oneself.

What did these researchers discover?

Patricia Lockwood et al. worked with 38 people between 18 and 35. They took part in effortful decision-making tasks, self-assessed their empathy, and went through a series of decisions while having their brains scanned. In this particular experiment the particularly clever bit was that the candidates had to work. This is a problem of brain scanning. It can’t be done in the real world or when walking around – only lying in a scanner. This means that decisions can be made but that may not reflect the amount of effort a person will invest into a task.

In this experiment participants had to squeeze a device that measured grip strength – they had to squeeze hard enough and long enough to reach a threshold to get a reward. The researchers could therefore see how much effort a person was willing to exert to get various rewards. But in this case, they could also see and accurately measure differences for work to get a reward for oneself or work done to get a reward for another person. Ingenious.

And in doing this they managed to identify a region called the anterior cingulate cortex gyrus (ACCg) that was associated with the effortful decision.

  • Firstly, it did not activate when making an effortful decision for themselves.
  • Secondly those who said they were more altruistic also had the strongest effort patterns in the ACCg.
  • Thirdly stronger grip activation was associated with stronger activation of the ACCg suggesting that this region directly correlates with effortful decision to help others.

As usual for this kind of study a lot more work has to be done with different individuals and also, for example, with those who have antiscoail perosnality disorder or psychopaths.

Nevertheless, a fascinating piece of research, particularly when we consider that the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (for review see here) has multiple associations with decision-making, error detection, but also with behaviour change. So, it looks promising.

Can we train the ACCg? Unlikely, but having this knowledge is still likely to be useful.

And I certainly feel my ACCg seems to be in good shape!

Andy Habermacher

Andy Habermacher

Andy is author of leading brains Review, Neuroleadership, and multiple other books. He has been intensively involved in writing and research into neuroleadership and is considered one of Europe’s leading experts. He is also a well-known public speaker, speaking on the brain and human behaviour.

Andy is also a masters athlete (middle distance running) and competes regularly at international competitions (and holds a few national records in his age category).

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Reference

Patricia L. Lockwood, Marco K. Wittmann, Hamed Nili, Mona Matsumoto-Ryan, Ayat Abdurahman, Jo Cutler, Masud Husain, Matthew A.J. Apps. 
Distinct neural representations for prosocial and self-benefiting effort
Current Biology, 2022
DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2022.08.010

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Why Your Brain Folds

Why Your Brain Folds

The brain is wrinkly but until now this process of folding has been poorly understood. Now we know more: a simple process forces neurons to spread out in the developing brain . . .

 

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Genes Or Exercise for Living Longer?

Genes Or Exercise for Living Longer?

Quick Hits
Daily brief research updates from the cognitive sciences

ageing brain active

We all know that we should get our exercise. And we all know that this is associated with many positive health outcomes. This includes living longer.

However, we also know that good genes help. We know that some families are long lived. Not only that but we also probably know of some people who seem to have unhealthy, even very unhealthy lifestyles and who seem to live very long lives.

This may suggest that genes are therefore more important than exercise, or physical activity. But is it?

This is the question that a group of researchers set out to answer from the University of California, San Diego.

The researchers around Alexander Posis tracked 5,446 women from 2012 until 2020 and measured their activity with a research-grade accelerometer – and what did they find.

Simple – they found that women with higher levels of light physical activity and moderate to vigorous physical activity had lower risk of death. Those that had higher sedentary time had a higher risk of death. And this was regardless of genetic predisposition.

So, it’s really quite simple. Physical activity will make you live longer irrespective of your genetics. And being sedentary will make you live shorter regardless of your genetics.

Is that enough to get you moving?

Andy Habermacher

Andy Habermacher

Andy is author of leading brains Review, Neuroleadership, and multiple other books. He has been intensively involved in writing and research into neuroleadership and is considered one of Europe’s leading experts. He is also a well-known public speaker, speaking on the brain and human behaviour.

Andy is also a masters athlete (middle distance running) and competes regularly at international competitions (and holds a few national records in his age category).

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Reference

Alexander Ivan B. Posis, John Bellettiere, Rany M. Salem, Michael J. LaMonte, JoAnn E. Manson, Ramon Casanova, Andrea Z. LaCroix, Aladdin H. Shadyab. 
Associations of Accelerometer-Measured Physical Activity and Sedentary Time With All-Cause Mortality by Genetic Predisposition for Longevity
Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 2022; 1
DOI: 10.1123/japa.2022-0067

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