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Is Using Facebook and Twitter as Real as an Orgasm?

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"It's all very well you being on Facebook, but it's not real, is it? The friendships on there are all very well, but...it's all on the computer. It can't be the same as being with real people."

I understand why my Dad said what he did about Facebook. At first glance, the social interactions through social media can't sensibly be the same as being in the pub with physical friends. Or can they?

What if we could prove, with science (you know me...or you will do soon), that interacting with friends and contacts on Facebook and Twitter has the same benefits to your wellbeing as being down the pub with them? That to your body and brain, there's no difference?

Now here comes the science bit...concentrate, please...

Okay, who's heard of oxytocin? Oxy...what? Wouldn't blame you if you hadn't. But orgasms...now ,who's heard of those?

Now I've got you listening. Oxytocin is known as the 'trust' or 'cuddle' hormone and promotes bonding between mammals. It's released after orgasm, during labour, and when a mother breastfeeds.

Last year, neuro-economist Paul Zak experimented on blood serum levels of oxytocin before and after a subject using Twitter. Oxytocin levels were found to have been raised by 13.2% and stress hormones cortisol & ACTH decreased by 10.8% & 14.9%, respectively. Powerful physical changes on your body chemistry.

If that's the case, according to Zak, not only does social media make you feel good, but it might also help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

What this study suggests with science is that to our brains and bodies, interacting with people on social media via a computer or smart phone is just as 'real' as being with them physically.

"Your brain interprets tweeting as if you were directly interacting with people you cared about or had empathy for", says Zak. "E-connection is processed in the brain like an in person connection. "

The study is non conclusive as it used a very small sample, and further research is needed. But brain scans of people reading fiction would appear to suggest that your brain reacts in some ways as if you were actually living the events. The brain is easy to fool, it would seem.

This 'trust' hormone that's released has vast implications for using social media in business too.

This trust has been eroded somewhat due to the current economic climate: of primary concern to businesses building new relationships is the 'know, like and trust' factor.

Social media is an easy vehicle for someone to get to know, like and trust you. And oxytocin is a hormone to facilitate this. As well as allowing easy interactions across the miles from existing networks.

Earlier this year I posted on Facebook about the day my husband finally moved out and we separated. The countless well wishes I had from my Facebook and Twitter friends were overwhelming and helped me through. Some of whom I haven't seen for 20 years since leaving 6th form.

These people are real friends with real support. I got my virtual 'cuddle' through social media when I needed it. Now I know that the 'cuddle' was just as helpful to me as if it had been physical. With a measurable effect on my wellbeing.

So don't let anyone tell you your online friendships are less valuable. They might just save your life.

Now...who fancies a pint?

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