As a coach, I got the biggest kick out of news reports this summer of a study conducted at Harvard — guess what? People will pay to talk about themselves! Well, thank goodness for that or we’d all be out of a job.
But in all seriousness, they found some interesting things, the main being that talking about oneself releases dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and an integral part of a neural highway called the mesolimbic dopamine reward pathway. This pathway is one of the brain’s chief sources of pleasure and feelings of reward.
The Harvard study tested the idea that people value their own experiences more highly than those of others, and that talking about oneself triggers dopamine reward pathways. What is interesting for coaching is that dopamine is not just about feeling good. Dopamine reinforces learning and is important to memory, attention and problem-solving.
As humans, we engage in many types of dopamine-seeking behavior. Even eating and sleeping release bursts of dopamine and seratonin (as do drugs such as cocaine, gambling, and getting a text message or “like” on Facebook). Who knew that talking to a coach was one of them! And according to the study, people will give up money to talk about themselves. Here’s what the Wall Street Journal had to say:
“In several tests, [researchers] offered the volunteers money if they chose to answer questions about other people, such as President Obama, rather than about themselves, paying out on a sliding scale of up to four cents…. Despite the financial incentive, people often preferred to talk about themselves and willingly gave up between 17% and 25% of their potential earnings so they could reveal personal information.”
Now, I’m always a bit skeptical of studies of monetary reward when dealing with amounts that are meaningless to most people, but my take away from this research is that if simply talking about yourself is rewarding in and of itself, imagine the value we bring by being trained professionals, focusing our clients’ reflection and helping them discover new directions.
As a coach, you are probably a lot of people’s favorite addiction. 🙂