Via Pharyngula (a recent addition to my blog roll), this post from EvolutionBlog (who has now joined the rapidly expanding ranks of blogs attempting to take over my reader), which quotes from this article from Scientific American,* which examines "the explosion of blogs" in the light of neurological explanations for the rewards of blogging.
There are well documented rewards for expressive writing:
Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery. A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not.
According to Alice Flaherty, a neuroscientist at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, the placebo theory of suffering is one window through which to view blogging. As social creatures, humans have a range of pain-related behaviors, such as complaining, which acts as a “placebo for getting satisfied,” Flaherty says. Blogging about stressful experiences might work similarly.
Flaherty, who studies conditions such as hypergraphia (an uncontrollable urge to write) and writer’s block, also looks to disease models to explain the drive behind this mode of communication. For example, people with mania often talk too much. “We believe something in the brain’s limbic system is boosting their desire to communicate,” Flaherty explains. Located mainly in the midbrain, the limbic system controls our drives, whether they are related to food, sex, appetite, or problem solving. “You know that drives are involved [in blogging] because a lot of people do it compulsively,” Flaherty notes. Also, blogging might trigger dopamine release, similar to stimulants like music, running and looking at art. (Emphasis mine.)
All of this is terribly interesting, I admit. And there must be a reason why those of us who blog do so. Self medication for a host of reasons is not out of the question. But it is the final paragraph of the article that I find most relevant, especially in light of the previous post:
Some hospitals have started hosting patient-authored blogs on their Web sites as clinicians begin to recognize the therapeutic value. Unlike a bedside journal, blogging offers the added benefit of receptive readers in similar situations, Morgan explains: “Individuals are connecting to one another and witnessing each other’s expressions—the basis for forming a community.”
Ha! Community. And the most interesting aspect of my experience of the blogasphere is that people with vastly different backgrounds, cultural contexts, genders, sexual identities, areas of interest and expertise have given me a window into their lives, and thereby enriching my own. How each of the blogs on my blog role have changed my world view is food for thought and a post for another day.
* When one is blogging about things which science bloggers are blogging about, it is important to cite attributions correctly. Well, this is important in general, actually. But specifically in this case, lest I look like a big plagiarizing idiot. **
** Speaking of big academic idiots: Do not, as you value the respect of your professors, EVER turn in a reading response to an article which the professor neglected to hand out in class. Making things up at length to cover the fact that you did not read the assignment that was not given out is a new level of pretentious stupidity.