How difficult is it to compare seemingly contrasting objects or subjects? Easy, it seems. Yes, Apple is a hardware company. And, yes, Facebook is the world’s largest social media platform. Both have more in common than you might think and thinking about it may change a few of your online habits and trips to the Apple Store.
All About Dopamine
Simply put, both Apple and Facebook work on the same level. They try to make customers and users feel good about their products by influencing dopamine, especially that part of dopamine which makes us feel good about something.
In the brain, dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter—a chemical released by neurons (nerve cells) to send signals to other nerve cells. The brain includes several distinct dopamine pathways, one of which plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior. Most types of rewards increase the level of dopamine in the brain, and many addictive drugs increase dopamine neuronal activity.
In a way, and how it is used by Apple, Facebook, McDonald’s and much of what keeps us going each day, dopamine is related to addiction. If something we do makes us feel good, then the level of dopamine increases in the brain. We feel good when we Like an article on Facebook. We feel good when we hear the notification for incoming Messages on iPhone. We get similar dopamine trips when we see certain commercials on television.
The feel good warm and fuzzies– however small– are what makes the world go round in ways many of us do not understand or appreciate. Look at an iPhone X commercial? Is it about features and functionality? No. We get visual stimulus about the phone’s screen and we feel good about what we see which makes us feel good about Apple and iPhone. Facebook uses exactly the same techniques to increase dopamine levels when it displays articles the company knows will affect us, or when we are paired up with friends, co-workers, relatives, or neighbors as followers.
If you want plenty of detail on how we are influenced by technology and dopamine releases gained from our devices or online experiences, read April Glaser and Will Oremus insightful research in Fighting Tech With Tech. You’ll learn about neuroeconomics.
Neuroeconomics… is about using models from economics to try to understand why people do what they do combined with neuroimaging and neuroscience data. We put people in MRIs, and we ask them questions, and we try to look at their brain activity and figure out why they’re doing what they’re doing. We’re taking these old models from economics and updating them with insights from neuroscience and actually looking at the brain to figure out how people make decisions.
That’s just the beginning but where it goes is into the study of how and why and when we make various choices each day, and how those choices can be influenced by appealing to our desire to create warm and fuzzies– increasing dopamine levels caused by our actions. The exact same thing occurs at Facebook as they study users and what makes us click or tap on which links, articles, or people.
It’s all about the science of feel food warm and fuzzies.
Basically at any technology company, someone in that company is thinking in those terms. Whether you’re a meditation app, a personal finance app, a health care app, an education app—you have to be thinking about how you interact with your users, and the No. 1 thing that everyone wants is to see users using it more.
That’s Facebook usage in a nutshell, but we see it everywhere else. Look at the packaging for any Apple product. White, pristine, elegant, and all those components combine to help us feel good about the purchase, thereby increasing dopamine a bit, which helps to bond us to Apple.
Clark Buckner writes about chemicals which activate happiness in the brain. Anne Trafton explains how technology helps neuroscientists understand how dopamine influences brain activity, and how that impacts our choices in life. Daisy Dunne asks if we are really in control of our minds. Based on how many outside influences squeezing out additional dopamine each day, maybe not as much as we thought. Milind Bharvirkar’s Dopamine Effect In Marketing gives a simpler explanation.
In essence, we’re being manipulated by outside forces– advertising, marketing, product usability, etc.– in ways we are just beginning to understand and appreciate. Psychology Today:
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them.
How are we affected by these outside forces preying upon our ability to feel good?
There are many other factors that control the production and release of dopamine. Food, exercise, vitamins, drugs, stress, illnesses, and other conditions create both increases and decreases in a person’s dopamine levels. But when we talk about dopamine’s role in marketing, we aren’t talking about these type of dopamine releases.
Brands set up experiences that trigger a dopamine release and that makes us feel good. What makes us feel good is what helps us to come back to click, like, follow, buy, and use. Apple does it. Facebook does it. Almost any company that sells products works to get that dopamine release going. In that regard, Apple is just like Facebook but also like many companies and organizations that prey upon humanity’s need to feel good.