The drug called ‘like’
To begin a friendship, liking someone is the minimum requirement. We get turned on when we like someone or are liked by someone. When we know we are liked, we sense a spirited nudge within that we are – despite what we think of ourselves and those who do not like us – worthy of the oxygen and calories we consume.
So what happens to our brains when we like someone or when we know we are liked? How does "liking" shape our brains?
Results of a study proved that indeed, being liked happens in the "cashing-in" departments of our brains – the primary reward networks. Moreso, being liked activates those parts of the brain that has to do with the "self." This explains the feeling of being doped up when we know we are liked. More than just being doped up, the same study showed that our brains are significantly more activated if we know that people we regard highly (versus people we regard less) like us.
Another study showed that being told that we are liked makes us like that person, even if we only had neutral feelings for that person before we were told we are liked. It is like an invisible hook that links two people. What struck me was that according to the same study, being told someone likes us makes us like that person more than being told we share the same views on certain issues.
It gets even more interesting, as a more recent study showed how liking people we encounter for the first time by just looking at their faces already marks our "liking" brain to the extent that the scientists could predict whom we will like months after that initial encounter. Our brain has already decided whom we will like before we even interact with that person! This is before any exchange of views, before any information is known about that person for our "thinking" brain to wade through and process. The brain's default is to make quick judgments, and this study proves that determining whom to like is one of those things that the brain does so quickly and literally, without reason weighing in.
The neuropsychology of "liking" could help explain many things that puzzle us.
It explains why even if a product endorser knows and understands nothing about the authenticity of the claims of a product or service, he or she could convince us to buy as long we like him or her for reasons that have nothing to do with hygiene, safety, or beauty claims of those products or services.
"Liking" motivates humans to do things they otherwise will not do. It is that silent launchpad installed in our brains. It can propel us to act, to buy, to trust, to believe, to date, or to help. That is why it is important for advertisements that endorsers of products, services, or campaigns are likeable. It is unlikely for us to support something if we do not like the spokesperson for it. It takes a lot more effort for our brain to overlook the spokesperson we do not like, and support the issue he or she stands for.
But "liking" alone is not a guarantee of action, especially if "liking" has been reduced to clicking a button. Science has shown how the brain glows when we like someone or when we know we are liked. It also explains how this seemingly harmless "like" button unleashes a powerful addictive drug that we manufacture ourselves. And hey, no one is going to raid us for that, so we are not likely to check ourselves.
But that button has come to govern an entire dimension of our collective lives: social media. It is sustainably powered in the billions by our individual cravings to like and be liked 24/7. It even gives us the feeling that we are actually contributing to something larger than ourselves even if all we did was click the "like" button. People call this "slacktivism" – the feeling that we have done something significant for humanity because we exerted a miniscule pressure on any of our lovely fingertips to click on a particular icon on the screen that looks like a hand signifying approval.
Tristan Harris, one of the architects of the "like" button, admits to knowing how imperious "liking" could be as it looms over everything in social media. When I listened to him talk about this, it seemed to me that he wanted to "unlike" and undo the "like" button if he could.
All of these have enlightened me on why and how personality politics, even if nonsensical and mostly unfair, sticks through time, space, and voters' preferences. This again shows that it takes a lot more effort for our brains to clearly figure out issues than just go with how we feel about a politician wholesale. It is so much easier to just base our support on whether we like or dislike a politician, than to figure it out issue per issue. So personality politics is, in this sense, the result of the massive effort of the laziest state of our brains. It is the self-defeating reward of a powerful lazy-brained electorate. Apparently, we value hardwork except in politics.
"Liking" is a potent drug. It can make us feel like we have moved a mountain even if we just clicked a button. It can make us only see what we want to see in a person instead of what is really there. It is a make-it-yourself illusion that is free, and no one can regulate it for you but your own awareness. What and who are you going to like today? – Rappler.com
Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, "Science Solitaire" and "Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire." You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.