Content creation has morphed from a niche hobby into a booming industry. It’s no longer just professional writers, filmmakers, or journalists who disseminate stories and ideas; virtually anyone with a smartphone can become a content creator. But have you ever paused to think about the psychology that drives us to create and share content online?
The quest for self-expression
The impulse to create content often stems from a desire for self-expression. We all have unique experiences, opinions, and skills that we wish to communicate to others. Whether it’s through a thought-provoking tweet, a scenic Instagram post, or a detailed blogpost – content creation allows us to manifest our inner world into a format that can be easily shared and consumed.
A 2015 study found that social media users who frequently share updates do so as a form of “self-presentation”. The study revealed that the act of creating and sharing content on social media platforms helps individuals to shape their digital identities and present themselves in a way that aligns with their real or ideal self.
Social validation and the “like” economy
Another strong motivator behind content creation is the quest for social validation – likes, comments, and shares have become new forms of social currency. These digital affirmations can generate feelings of happiness and validation, similar to receiving a compliment in real life.
The impact of these virtual thumbs-up is so significant that researchers from Harvard University have likened receiving likes on social media to the pleasurable sensations experienced during eating and sexual activity. The study, led by Diana Tamir and Jason Mitchell, showed that self-disclosure – telling others about oneself through content creation – activates regions of the brain associated with reward.
Beyond personal motives, the drive to connect with a community of like-minded individuals also fuels our desire to create content. Humans are inherently social creatures, and the digital landscape offers endless opportunities to connect with people who share our interests, passions, or challenges.
Through the content we create, we can attract a tribe of individuals who resonate with our messages, thus creating a cycle where both the creator and the audience find value in shared ideas and experiences.
Educational intent and the joy of helping others
Some content creators are motivated by the joy of educating others and providing valuable resources. Educational content – such as how-to videos, tutorials, and in-depth articles – can be particularly rewarding to produce.
When we share knowledge or provide solutions that help someone else, we experience a psychological phenomenon known as the “helper’s high”. This sense of gratification comes from the release of endorphins, creating a mutually beneficial experience for both the content creator and the consumer.
The complexity of motives and the way forward
Content creation is not driven by a single motive but is instead influenced by a complex blend of psychological factors. Understanding these can help marketers, social media strategists, and anyone with an interest in digital psychology to better navigate the expansive world of online content. As the digital landscape continues to evolve, paying attention to the psychological underpinnings of why we create and share can offer a unique lens through which to engage with, and understand, the human experience.
Oscar Kincade is a digital psychologist and writer specialising in the intersection of technology and human behaviour.