Social media is sometimes derided as one of the defining signs of the “me generation.” Users publish thoughts, complaints, and experiences at such a rapid-fire pace that they rarely stop to think about how many more unfollows they may be getting than likes.
Such are some of the implications of study recently carried that has found that people are more likely to be interested in hearing about a mundane experience that is shared, rather than an extraordinary one that the speaker’s audience has trouble relating to. This may mean that the happiness people get from an experience afterward could make up for its simplicity in the long run, says Cassie Mogilner, an assistant professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times.
“It’s a timely question, given how much people are sharing and bragging about their experiences through social media. This suggests that people may be rolling their eyes at all those posts about amazing vacations.”
For the purposes of the study, an extraordinary experience was defined as one that is “both enjoyable and unique.” When subjects in one test group were shown a mediocre or dull video, they were more likely to enjoy group conversations afterward despite the fact that they had all sat through a “bad experience.” However, a separate test subject was shown a “great” video which represented an extraordinary experience. The second subject didn’t have as much fun in the group discussion afterward — people were not as interested in hearing about his superior experience because they themselves couldn’t apply it to their own lives.
The finding came as a surprise to both researchers and participants, said study co-author Daniel T. Gilbert, a Harvard social psychologist who writes about happiness.
“Our subjects thought they would be the star of the interaction, and they were surprised they were left out of it. They didn’t understand why everyone else wanted to commiserate [about the bad movie] rather than hear about their great one.”
Gus Cooney, a Harvard graduate student in psychology and the study’s lead author, noted that the discovery has fascinating implications for what humans eventually reap from extraordinary experiences — at least socially.
“We’re so attracted by extraordinary things that we don’t think about their cost — that they make you different from anyone else.”
Of course, whether or not somehow likes hearing about your story also probably depends slightly on your delivery. In his recent paper, “You Call It ‘Self-Exuberance,’ I Call It ‘Bragging,'” Dr. Loewenstein revealed that research is finding more and more that the widespread experience sharing which has become a staple of social media could be doing us harm with our friends in the long run.
“Our study gave me pause about whether you should just keep your mouth shut… You might want to think twice before you haul out your photo album of that recent trip to Paris.”
Do you think Facebook vacation photos are annoying?
[Image via Kevin Dooley, Flickr]