Age of Adrenaline: Welcome to the Most Engaging Era of Social Media
American businesses have long been using basic psychological frameworks such as dopamine’s role in the brain’s reward system formation of habits to design and market products. Now, innovations in technology and hardware are making it easier for machines to process data at faster rates. This progress, combined with shifts in consumer behavior and product development, is creating a world where companies can provide their customers with continuous dopamine hits without putting in a whole lot of effort.
*Dopamine has entered the chat*
In case you’re not familiar, dopamine plays a crucial role in the brain’s reward system and in the formation of habits. Dopamine release is specifically changed when expectation is unmatched: positive surprise means more dopamine, while negative surprise results in less dopamine. When we are surprised by something like winning money via the lottery, an unexpected positive change, we are likely to engage in that behavior more often.
The companies leading the charge in the digital world base their product innovations on psychological habituation and consumer behavior: if they can create something that makes customers want to continuously come back they will exploit it to the nth degree. As technological progress creates better products, ones that trigger more dopamine at higher rates, we are reaching new neurobiological frontiers and redefining the human-computer relationship.
One of the reasons that TikTok has been able to rise above the fray of other social networks is due to how it commodifies virality. By creating an algorithm that delivers perfectly bespoke content to their millions of global users, every time users post on TikTok, they are rolling the virality dice. When a TikTok user sees a video they enjoy, their brain releases dopamine. By watching, liking, or sharing that video, TikTok’s algorithm is learning how it can continue to trigger those dopamine releases. Not to mention as someone who posts on TikTok, the allure of going viral at any instance is appealing to nearly everyone on social media.
The offer of overnight celebrity is the ultimate unexpected dopamine delight for most young people on the internet. It is both impressive and scary how technology product managers have managed to tease every last dopamine neurotransmitter from their users. They say that given enough time, a group of monkeys will reproduce the works of Shakespeare by sheer chance. In a modern translation, an industry composed largely of non-scientists figured out how to leverage evolutionary biology to make their products irresistible in under a decade.
Second generation digital products are emerging with mechanisms to trigger new virtuous feedback loops through formerly untapped brain science. Some chemical candidates to enable next-generation mass habit formation may be oxytocin, cortisol, and adrenaline.
Oxytocin release is very difficult to inculcate repeatedly in a 2-dimensional app format. Facebook achieves oxytocin release by showing “memories'' that evoke nostalgia, but it is challenging to encourage habitual behavior around oxytocin due to the limited number of stimuli which trigger the neurotransmitter.
Cortisol is the stress hormone synonymous with fight-or-flight. It produces sensations on the anxiety spectrum, and can be a powerful tool for invoking action in a subject, as Cambridge Analytic and the 2016 US presidential election proved.
Adrenaline is a hormone produced by the adrenal gland due to stimulation from the sympathetic system, releasing the neurotransmitter noradrenaline, which is also in the catecholamines family with dopamine. Its specific role in habit formation is complex, but it does indeed play a significant role in behavior and reward.
*Adrenaline is now hosting the chat*
We know adrenaline very well. It is triggered when you skydive, and when you bet a friend on the golf course. Given its relation to dopamine and its preexisting role in habit formation, adrenaline is the perfect candidate to supplant dopamine as king chemical in the new social media landscape that is currently unfolding.
Robinhood is an incredible window into the soul of this transition. About 46% of millennials and Gen Zs are trading derivatives on platforms like Robinhood, which is double the rate of older generations: the TikTok generation is more interested in the thrill of growing their portfolio than receiving likes on their avocado toast pictures on Facebook.
At some point in the next decade, products will be tailor-fitted to each user. While dopamine hits from likes on instagram were interesting in 2015, users are becoming more discerning and looking for more than just likes in the platforms they use. Product managers will begin to alter their product experience to evoke a custom cocktail of neurotransmitters and hormones designed to engage that specific person. While we are still many years out, this prospect makes me simultaneously thrilled, terrified, excited, and comforted.
We at Grin Gaming can report first hand that Americans are hungry for adrenaline-inducing digital experiences. We believe that as more companies are able to commodify Robinhood-like user experiences, we will see adrenaline-inducing products and features propagate throughout the US market, which will define the next decade of consumer technology.
Nick Bucheleres is the CEO and Founder of Grin Gaming. Grin Gaming is an AI-driven technology platform that lets users predict every moment of the action. Grin Gaming is reimagining the live event experience by enabling users to compete over every outcome - gamifying live events in an innovative way that meets the current state of attention competition. From sports to stocks and crypto, Grin Gaming hosts hundreds of contests a day. Download Grin Gaming from the App Store, or to learn more about Grin Gaming please visit www.gringaming.com.
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