This Is Your Brain On Social Media (And It May Not Be Good.)

Paul Hebert Change, Change Management, Communication, Culture, Employee Communications, Employee Engagement, Engagement and Satisfaction, HR Technology, Paul Hebert, Social Media

Below is a video of Dr. Dan Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, discussing the impact social media is having on us humans. And not just on our behavior – but on the actual physical way our brain is wired. The video is only 4 minutes long but those with the most minimal of attention spans can jump down below the video for a summary and  discussion… (email/rss subscribers may need to click through to see the video)



The Brain – The Social Organ

First of all, the brain is the social organ of the body. One of its main jobs (especially in us humans) is to manage the social side of our lives. And in an organization, that social stuff is the culture stuff. The stuff HR is inextricably connected to. Our ability to be more social and more connected keeps us from simply sitting around and staring at the world. It is how we connect and interact with each other.

And our way of interacting may be changing.

As the way we interact changes, so does our brain.

According to the good Dr. in the video, our brains start to change in order to better manage the way we handle social inputs. We are getting more and more inputs from social media, and those inputs differ significantly from inputs we get via IRL (“in real life” for those of you in Rio Linda.) Therefore, the more we use social media, the more our brains change.

And… according to the Doctor, using social media to communicate removes a very critical element of culture and communication. Emotion.

The video highlights that studies show that when you have face-to-face contact you get input from 7 signals:

  • Eye contact
  • Facial Expression
  • Tone of Voice
  • Posture
  • Gestures
  • Timing
  • Intensity

Those signals activate the right side of our brain to a greater degree than the left. And the right side is where the things we need to “feel” connected and engaged live. That is the part of the brain we want to engage with our employees. But here’s the funny thing… most social media lacks ALL of those signals. When we use social media (and we are more and more) we give the right side of the brain less input. When we get less right-side input we rely on the left side more and that side of the brain is the more “rational” side. Less emotional. And from an employee engagement and culture standpoint—that is not a good thing.

So the issue is this…

If we are replacing our face-to-face conversations with all the non-verbal tools that social media entails (and, yes, email is included in that list) then we are creating more surface-level connections and less emotional ones. And over time that will actually change the structure of our brain making emotional connections harder and harder. You can’t drive employee engagement, meaning and purpose without the right side of your brain.

So as an HR person—in your quest to be “more efficient”—you are looking at more tech, more non-face-to-face solutions to reduce costs and increase “connectivity.” Unfortunately, all that work may be for naught because you end up replacing your ongoing face-to-face meetings with all these new-fangled social media tools which do nothing but create less emotional connections, less engagement and more robots.

You can use those tools to augment your face-to-face efforts… but replacing them may cause problems.

Now get off the blogs and go talk to someone!

Paul Hebert

Paul Hebert is Vice President of Individual Performance Strategy at Creative Group Inc, writer, speaker and consultant. Paul focuses on influencing behaviors and driving business results through employees, channel partners and consumers. He is dedicated to creating true emotional connections often overlooked in our automated, tech-enabled world. Using proven motivational theory, behavioral economics and social psychology he has driven extraordinary company performance for his clients. Paul is widely considered an expert on motivation, incentives, and engagement.