Can Twitter Make You Skinny?

socializing online
Could having many connections on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook cause you to lose more weight than, say, running on a treadmill? The answer is… maybe. Research on mice showed that those individuals who socialized with other mice lost more weight than less social mice even when they ate more food. From the Daily Mail:

Keeping a busy social life amongst lots of friends may keep people slimmer than spending hours on a treadmill, according to scientists. They say that socialising and meeting with friends helps boost levels of ‘brown fat’ in the body which burns calories to generate heat. Living in a stimulating, social environment was found to reduce abdominal fat in mice by half over four weeks, even if they ate more…

Increased levels of brown fat may also be attributed to an increase in a brain chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor [BDNF] found in the sociable mice.

There are two big caveats here. First, the research was done with mice, not humans. Rodent socialization may have different effects than, say, dropping by a bar for happy hour with your friends after work.

Second, although the scientists considered socializing to be the key factor, the experiment involved face to face (whisker to whisker?) socializing in a “stimulating” environment. While online socializing may have many of the same psychological effects as in-person contact, it’s entirely possible that the physiological effects are different. Face-to-face conversations involve more senses and likely engage the brain much more than exchanging tweets or commenting on someone’s wall. Indeed, the scientists cite computers as one way we avoid socializing (and exercise).

Still, it’s intriguing that socializing, even in person, seems to burn calories. If you thought slender people had more friends because they were seen as more attractive, you might be wrong; maybe their friends keep them slender!

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— who has written 959 posts on Neuromarketing.

Roger Dooley writes and speaks about marketing, and in particular the use of neuroscience and behavioral research to make advertising, marketing, and products better. He is the primary author at Neuromarketing, and founder of Dooley Direct LLC, a marketing consultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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5 responses to "Can Twitter Make You Skinny?" — Your Turn

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Nathan 22. September 2011 at 9:07 am

You precisely hit on the topic that came to mind when I read this headline, Roger: Does twitter-based socialization provide the same spectrum of effects as does physical socialization? And I seriously doubt it. When anthropologists refer to the “social” nature of hominids they invariably describe the close physical contact and exposure to facial expression and body language that means so much in terms of our “unspoken” communications. Most of which are absent from the online environment. But it would take a better brain than mine to isolate which of these have the ability to activate the body’s fat-burning capabilities.

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Roger Dooley
Twitter: rogerdooley
22. September 2011 at 2:32 pm

I agree, Nathan. Maybe the mice just ran around more when they were with other mice. My dog tends to lay around the house most of the time, but when a canine buddy comes to visit they’ll chase and wrestle for hours.

Roger

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Mark McGuinness 22. September 2011 at 2:25 pm

This is ridiculous. Mice don’t use Twitter. They use Micespace. ;-)

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Roger Dooley
Twitter: rogerdooley
22. September 2011 at 2:32 pm

And the Funny Comment of the Day Award goes to… Mark McGuinness!

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Jill Tooley
Twitter: JillTooley
22. September 2011 at 3:45 pm

This is fascinating stuff, Roger! It’s no secret that we’ve become less and less involved with face-to-face or phone conversations since the social media explosion; if anything, I’d take the stance that this study proves the benefits of in-person socialization versus Twitter interaction. When we’re out with friends, we walk from place to place, tell stories with lots of hand movements, and actually laugh out loud (instead of just typing LOL), all of which burn calories. Now you’ve got me wondering! This is definitely intriguing no matter which way you approach it.

P.S. I’d also like to give my kudos to Mark for his funny comment! Rodent humor is the best kind, in my opinion! ;)

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