Do you goof off on Facebook during work? There’s a scientific reason for it

Facebook at work
Many of us, without thinking, head to Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites during work breaks. But, besides boredom and distraction, there could be a scientific reason for it. A new medical study, conducted by neuroscientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, may provide a clue: the brain wants to be social (via Raw Story).

The study, published in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Journal of Cognitive Neurosciencetries to answer a question scientists have been researching for at least two decades: What is the brain doing while at rest? Scientists have always known that our brains keep busy all the time, but they haven’t been able to figure out what it’s actually doing. In the study, what the UCLA scientists uncovered is that even when we have a bit of quiet downtime to ourselves, “the brain has a major system that seems predisposed to get us ready to be social in our spare moments,” says Matthew Lieberman, a UCLA professor of psychology and of psychiatry and bio-behavioral sciences, and one of the study’s authors.

“When I want to take a break from work, the brain network that comes on is the same network we use when we’re looking through our Facebook timeline and seeing what our friends are up to,” adds Lieberman, who is an expert in social cognitive neuroscience and an author of Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect. “That’s what our brain wants to do, especially when we take a break from work that requires other brain networks.”

The researchers surveyed 10 men and 11 women, from ages 18 to 31 – all recruited from UCLA. The study involved the participants viewing 40 photographs in three sets, with their brain activity recorded using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). According to the UCLA press release, “Most of the photos showed people performing actions in a social setting and expressing a certain emotion. In one set of 40 photographs, images were paired with captions that reflected the person’s mental state – ‘He is feeling bored’ or ‘She is expressing self-doubt,’ for example. The second set of photos had identical images, but with captions that merely described what the person was doing – ‘He is resting his head’ or ‘She is looking to her side.’ And a third set of images depicted a number accompanied by a simple mathematical equation – for example, ’10: 18-8.'”

The participants were asked if the captions accurately describes the images. One conclusion the researchers found was that in the regions of the brain that were active while viewing the first set of images (emotion), the same areas were active during periods of rest; those areas weren’t as active when looking at the two other sets. Also, one part of the brain, the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (which turns on when we dream and when we think about other people), was more active during rest, before participants were asked to look at photos; the participants “made significantly faster judgments if the next photo they saw presented a statement about the person’s mental state,” the researchers found. As Lieberman says, the brain is preparing itself to react quicker when it moves from rest to social. Interestingly, the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex was less active when participants viewed the other two set of photos, even if they were the same photos but with non-emotional captions.

“It’s the same photograph; the only thing that differs is whether the caption is mind-focused or body-focused,” says lead author Robert Spunt, a postdoctoral scholar at the California Institute of Technology who conducted the research while at UCLA. “It’s remarkable.”

The study doesn’t mention Facebook or other social networks specifically, but Lieberman suggests there’s a connection. In general, it could also explain why many people want to socialize with others in the workplace.

While scientists have known that humans distract themselves during work by jumping onto social media, there’s now a study that attempts to explain why. So the next time your boss tells you to stop goofing off, say it’s a medical condition.

Photography

MIT science photographer isn’t an artist, but her work could fill galleries

Felice Frankel is an award-winning photographer, but she doesn't consider herself an artist. As a science photographer, she has been helping researchers better communicate their ideas for nearly three decades with eye-catching imagery.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘Twilight Zone’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Social Media

Ride the rails and share your stories with Amtrak’s new social media residency

Amtrak is looking for travel fans with a knack for telling stories on social media. The new Amtrak social media residency program wants amateur travelers to share photos, video, and written content from aboard long-distance trips.
Social Media

Instagram’s new Close Friends List lets you decide who should see your Story

Have a story to share, but don't want to send it to everyone? Instagram now offers a close friends list that will allow users to share stories with only the users included on that list.
Social Media

Survey of teens says social media lets them connect with friends and get support

A survey of teenagers shows the ways that social media sites can be beneficial to them, like feeling more connected to their friends, the ability to interact with different people, and as a venue to get support when they are struggling.
Social Media

Hotel chain offers an Instagram ‘sitter’ who will post photos for you

If the pressure to post stunning Instagram photos is ruining your vacations, then how about hiring a local Instagram influencer to do the job for you while you go off and enjoy yourself? Well, such a service now exists.
Social Media

Hangouts isn’t being hung out to dry in 2020, Google says

According to a report, Google may shut down Google Hangouts by 2020. While Hangouts was once Google's top-tier messaging app, the app has since been neglected in favor of Android Messages.
Social Media

Tumblr bans nudity to create ‘a safe place for creative expression’

Tumblr will soon no longer allow images with adult content. The company says the change is one that's designed to help more creators feel comfortable sharing on the platform, but admits the change won't happen overnight.
Social Media

Members can share the same Story with Facebook’s new Group Stories

Facebook Group members can now view and share Group Stories. Unlike the Stories for an individual user, the new tool allows members to contribute to the same Group Story, if the feature isn't turned off by an admin.
Social Media

You can now share saved Facebook posts with a Pinterest-like collection tool

Facebook collections can now be shared with friends if you also want to allow them to contribute to the list. Facebook is rolling out an update that allows users to add a contributor to their collections, or lists of saved Facebook posts.
Mobile

Broadway actor tells Kanye West to get off his phone during opening night

Theater actors can get understandably upset when they spot someone in the audience fiddling with their phone instead of watching the show. The other night that audience member was Kanye West, and he got called out for it.
Social Media

This event topped Facebook’s biggest moments of the year — again

As the year comes to a close, Facebook is looking back on what users discussed most over the last year. For two years in a row, International Women's Day topped the list. So what else is on the list?
Social Media

This band owns Twitter, according to list of top accounts and tweets for 2018

What was the biggest buzz on Twitter in 2018? Twitter's 2018 Year in Review highlights the biggest tweets, accounts, and hashtags. The most-tweeted celebrities, movies, TV shows, athletes, politicians and more in Twitter's 2018 trends.
Social Media

What do yodeling and Kylie Jenner have in common? YouTube’s top 2018 videos

In a true nod to the variety found on YouTube, the platform's top 10 list of videos from 2018 range from celebrities to sports, from perfectly tossing a picture frame on the wall to a kid yodeling in aisle 12 at Walmart.