Social networks exploit the reward equation

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Social networks are masters of optimization algorithms (see: Simple explanation of an optimization algorithm). The question is what parameters they optimize for. In principle they optimize the time people stay in their app, because the more time you spend, the better they know you, the better ads you are exposed to, the more profit they drive.

Optimizing for time spent, however, may be tackling some other underlying mechanisms in the human brain, for example the reward equation. If humans receive periodic doses of dopamine, they are prone to develop habits. Tuning the period between doses is challenging, and generating a dose is also hard. Of course Facebook does not inject us with anything, but can trigger a spike in dopamine through likes, mentions, shares, etc.

What is called the attention economy, in the end comes down to the dopamine economy. By optimizing time spent on a given app, screen, etc. we are effectively optimizing the dosage of dopamine in humans at a global scale.

This information can be invaluable is it is actually as good as we think it is. Can this be used for other purposes beyond economic gain of certain economic actors? For example, by using the reward equation in education.

Tags: #social-networks #dopamine #addiction #habit-change


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Aquiles Carattino
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