We all have at least one of those friends (some of us are those friends), the kind whose Facebook/Instagram/Twitter feed is used exclusively to post photos and captions documenting how insanely epic life is: Here I am waltzing on a beach in St. Tropez! Here I am eating truffle shavings at a five-star restaurant in Tuscany! Wait, here I am right after getting a major promotion!
Psychologically, it makes sense that many of us use social media to broadcast all the awesome stuff going on in our lives. As humans, we crave talking about ourselves -- about 40 percent of what comes out of our mouths is devoted to telling others about our thoughts and feelings -- and it's way more satisfying to showcase the exhilarating moments than it is the countless mundane ones. (Researchers have found that bragging activates the same feeling of pleasure in the brain as money and food.)
That said, a recent study in Psychological Science suggests that when it comes to sharing your thrilling, exclusive experiences on social media, it's perhaps better to…well, just not to.
Before the study began, researchers asked 76 participants to rate the quality of a number of short films. Based on the feedback, they chose the highest rated film, which left viewers feeling really good, and used it as a stand-in for an extraordinary experience. Meanwhile, they selected a relatively low-rated film, one that dampened viewers' moods, to represent a standard experience.
Sixty-eight new participants were divided into 17 groups of four for a brief post-screening chat; in each group, one person had seen the highly rated film, while the other three had watched the not-so-great alternative.
While participants who watched the 4-star short expected to have an uplifting discussion, in which they talked about how great the film was, in general their fellow group members didn't want to hear it; instead, they wanted to bond over their own subpar – but shared -- viewing experience. After the discussion, volunteers who had been treated to the great film reported feeling far lousier than their counterparts, who'd had a subpar viewing but were able to commiserate with one another after the fact.
"We found that participants thoroughly enjoyed having experiences that were superior to those had by their peers," the authors wrote, before noting that "having had such experiences spoiled their subsequent social interactions and ultimately left them feeling worse than they would have felt if they had had an ordinary experience instead."
In other words, people would rather talk about and bond over an experience they've had (however unexciting), than hear about an experience (however amazing) that they haven't. This means broadcasting the details of your epic, exclusive vacation/dinner/night-on-the-town/rooftop view in any social situation – be it at a party or on social media – has the potential to backfire.
Because while going on a vacation with your significant other to Paris is an amazing, singular experience, posting those photos on Facebook provides all of us back at home with a less exciting, but communal one: Ridiculing your Paris vacation pictures on Facebook chat while we sit at our desks and stare at our computers.