What the brain 'Likes': neural correlates of providing feedback on social media

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2018 Sep 4;13(7):699-707. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsy051.


Evidence increasingly suggests that neural structures that respond to primary and secondary rewards are also implicated in the processing of social rewards. The 'Like'-a popular feature on social media-shares features with both monetary and social rewards as a means of feedback that shapes reinforcement learning. Despite the ubiquity of the Like, little is known about the neural correlates of providing this feedback to others. In this study, we mapped the neural correlates of providing Likes to others on social media. Fifty-eight adolescents and young adults completed a task in the MRI scanner designed to mimic the social photo-sharing app Instagram. We examined neural responses when participants provided positive feedback to others. The experience of providing Likes to others on social media related to activation in brain circuity implicated in reward, including the striatum and ventral tegmental area, regions also implicated in the experience of receiving Likes from others. Providing Likes was also associated with activation in brain regions involved in salience processing and executive function. We discuss the implications of these findings for our understanding of the neural processing of social rewards, as well as the neural processes underlying social media use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Corpus Striatum / diagnostic imaging
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Feedback, Psychological / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Reward
  • Social Media*
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / diagnostic imaging
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / physiology
  • Young Adult