★ The Psychology of Twitter: Jackpot!

I get twitchy whenev­er I notice an art­icle entitled ‘The Psychology of X’. More often than not, that phrase can be read ‘What I think about X’. So it is with twitchi­ness that read The Psychology of Twitter over at World of Psychology on PsychCentral.

What is Twitter? The article’s author, John M. Grohol, provides a good sum­mary:

The best way to ima­gine Twitter is as a 24/7 online con­ver­sa­tion that nev­er ends, even when you’re away from the com­puter. Since tweets are so short, they bet­ter take on more of an immers­ive, real-time feel of a talk­ing con­ver­sa­tion than, say, an email. Think instant mes­saging, except instead of talk­ing to a single per­son, you’re talk­ing to the world (and the world talks back!).

Grohol, a psy­cho­lo­gist, goes on to talk about the pros and cons of Twitter. As for pros:

On the pros side, Twitter is yet anoth­er way to com­mu­nic­ate online. I’m not cer­tain any­one thought we needed this (”Oh great, one more thing I need to keep updated!”), but its pop­ular­ity speaks to an unfilled com­mu­nic­a­tions void. The fact that it allows you to also update your status on oth­er social net­works means it can act as a cent­ral “status updat­ing” ser­vice.

As for cons:

Twitter can […] bring about a feel­ing that you’re “miss­ing some­thing” when you’re not online and see your Twitter feed. Normal human con­ver­sa­tions have a begin­ning, a middle, and an end. Twitter has none of these things — it’s con­tinu­ous and non­stop, even when you’re gone. This can impart a sense of need­ing to “always be there” to see what’s going on. This isn’t neces­sar­ily a new feel­ing for some people, but the con­stant con­ver­sa­tion­al updat­ing on Twitter brings it to a new level.

While we’re being psy­cho­lo­gic­al, I’d like to add that this can be viewed from a beha­vi­our­ist per­spect­ive. Psychological beha­vi­our­ism is a way of look­ing at the world in terms of the rela­tion­ship between the anim­al (that’s you) and the envir­on­ment (that’s your com­puter). It seems to me that an import­ant factor in the attract­ive­ness of Twitter lies in the pseudo-ran­dom occur­rence of things that we con­sider import­ant. For us, this is some­thing just plain inter­est­ing, like Stephen Fry shar­ing his views on a new gad­get, or the fact that Roger N. Morris has shaved off his beard. Such things are not earth-quiv­ver­ingly import­ant (except to Roger’s din­ner com­pan­ions) but they do serve as rein­for­cers in the par­lance of the beha­vi­our­al psy­cho­lo­gist.

What you have, then, is known as a vari­able inter­val sched­ule of rein­force­ment. In oth­er words, you can nev­er truly pre­dict when the next inter­est­ing tweet is about to arrive. From dec­ades of empir­ic­al research, we know that beha­viour that is ran­domly rein­forced is very dif­fi­cult to extin­guish. This under­lies — some would go so far as say to ‘explain’ — prob­lem­at­ic gambling beha­viour. Think of a fruit machine: You’ve got to keep feed­ing the slot with money because maybe, just maybe, the sweet rein­force­ment of a jack­pot is around the corner.

Twitter: It could be you.

The Psychology of Twitter | World of Psychology

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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