Disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding

Edited by Michael S. Gazzaniga, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, and approved March 27, 2012 (received for review February 7, 2012)
May 7, 2012
109 (21) 8038-8043


Humans devote 30–40% of speech output solely to informing others of their own subjective experiences. What drives this propensity for disclosure? Here, we test recent theories that individuals place high subjective value on opportunities to communicate their thoughts and feelings to others and that doing so engages neural and cognitive mechanisms associated with reward. Five studies provided support for this hypothesis. Self-disclosure was strongly associated with increased activation in brain regions that form the mesolimbic dopamine system, including the nucleus accumbens and ventral tegmental area. Moreover, individuals were willing to forgo money to disclose about the self. Two additional studies demonstrated that these effects stemmed from the independent value that individuals placed on self-referential thought and on simply sharing information with others. Together, these findings suggest that the human tendency to convey information about personal experience may arise from the intrinsic value associated with self-disclosure.

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The authors thank Zach Alexander, Kimberlee D’Ardenne, Juan Manuel Contreras, Richard Hackman, Joe Moran, Kenneth Parreno, Emma Templeton, Adam Waytz, and Jamil Zaki for helpful advice and assistance. D.I.T. was supported by a graduate research fellowship from the National Science Foundation.

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Published in

Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Vol. 109 | No. 21
May 22, 2012
PubMed: 22566617


Submission history

Published online: May 7, 2012
Published in issue: May 22, 2012


  1. self-reference
  2. social cognition
  3. reward
  4. functional MRI


The authors thank Zach Alexander, Kimberlee D’Ardenne, Juan Manuel Contreras, Richard Hackman, Joe Moran, Kenneth Parreno, Emma Templeton, Adam Waytz, and Jamil Zaki for helpful advice and assistance. D.I.T. was supported by a graduate research fellowship from the National Science Foundation.


This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.



Diana I. Tamir1 [email protected]
Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138
Jason P. Mitchell
Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138


To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: [email protected].
Author contributions: D.I.T. and J.P.M. designed research, D.I.T. and J.P.M. performed research; D.I.T. analyzed data; and D.I.T. and J.P.M. wrote the paper.

Competing Interests

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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    Disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
    • Vol. 109
    • No. 21
    • pp. 7949-8352







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