Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Irregular, bite-size rewards make Twitter addictive

chomp, chomp from

Why Twitter, Facebook, etc Seem So Addictive

Many theories have been offered for why Twitter and Facebook and [fill in the blank] seem so addictive. One of the theories that makes a lot of sense to me was recently offered by Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational. Dr. Ariely states that
Skinner distinguished between fixed-ratio schedules of reinforcement and variable-ratio schedules of reinforcement. Under a fixed schedule, a rat received a reward of food after it pressed the lever a fixed number of times—say 100 times. Under the variable schedule, the rat earned the food pellet after it pressed the lever a random number of times. Sometimes it would receive the food after pressing 10 times, and sometimes after pressing 200 times.
… Skinner found that the variable schedules were actually more motivating. The most telling result was that when the rewards ceased, the rats that were under the fixed schedules stopped working almost immediately, but those under the variable schedules kept working for a very long time [emphasis mine].
This seems to me to be pretty much what we see with Twitter and Facebook and RSS feeds: the vast majority of the entries are completely useless, even utter crap, but every once in a while, you’ll find something you consider of great value. Because it happens irregularly, and because the size of the “reward” is variable, our minds actually consider the reward more valuable than if we received an equivalent amount on a predictable basis. So we get hooked.
You can read more about this at Dr. Ariely’s full post.

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