Conversation

What’s our favorite topic?

People love to talk. We communicate with each other all the time through different means of communication, such as face-to-face interactions, emails, phone calls, video conferences, text messages and many others. Nowadays we’ve got access not only to newspapers but also to social media and online services. It looks like we should have an infinite number of topics to explore. And even though there are plenty of issues to discuss, we still prefer our favorite subject – ourselves. Most people love to talk about themselves.

Our egocentricity in numbers

On average we spend around 60% of our time talking about ourselves [1]. Our own experiences and thoughts are the most interesting topics to us and undoubtedly we want to share them with others. This number jumps up to 80% [2] when we move to the category of communication via social media. You can easily see such tendency on Instagram or Facebook. Social media is definitely the mecca of egocentricity.

  • 60%

    face-to-face

  • 80%

    via social media

It feels like food, drugs and sex

Studies have shown that talking about ourselves activates the same areas of the brain as eating delicious food, taking drugs and having sex [3]. In their research the Harvard University Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure the levels of activity in various regions of the brain. 195 participants were asked to talk about their own opinions and personality traits and the opinions and traits of others. The researchers compared the activity of the brain while those two categories were discussed. Three regions associated with pleasure, motivation and reward stood out while the participants were talking about their own opinions. In a nutshell the research shows just how gratifying talking about yourself is.

Are there any benefits?

Yes, there are. Talking about our own insights and opinions can lead to personal growth. Thanks to feedback received from other people we are able to adjust and improve the way we think… provided of course that people listen to us. Apart from educational advantages, disclosing personal information helps us bond with other people. And this is something we need from a point of view of physical survival and subjective happiness [4].

So it’s a feature

I don’t want to criticize what most people love to do. It’s definitely not my goal to judge whether it’s good or bad. This is just how we behave; it’s our nature. But there is a bottom line. Here’s a million dollar tip which everyone can use widely (I love that clickbait sentence). For those who ask me:

“Alex, I don’t know what to talk to people about. What should I do?”

Just listen to them. Use the power of active listening and be a good listener. This is one of the greatest and the most forgotten skills. In times when everyone can broadcast a message into the world, not many have the ability to actually listen. If you let people talk about themselves, it’s quite probable they will think you’re an interesting and thoughtful person. Now it’s high time you tried it in the real world. Good luck and let me know how it goes!


References:

[1] R. I. M. Dunbar and Anna Marriott, N. D. C. Duncan. 1997. Department of Psychology, University of Liverpool. Human Conversational Behavior.
[2] Mor Naaman, Jeffrey Boase, Chih-Hui Lai. Rutgers University, School of Communication and Information. 2010. Is it Really About Me? Message Content in Social Awareness Streams.
[3] Adrian F. Ward. Scientific American. 2013. The Neuroscience of Everybody’s Favorite Topic.
[4] Mark D. Holder, Ben Coleman. Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007. The Contribution of Social Relationships to Children’s Happiness.

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