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There are numerous articles about people loving to talk about themselves.

However, my experience has been very different.

Is "everyone's favorite topic is themselves" a myth?

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A 2012 paper by Diana I. Tamir and Jason P. Mitchell looked at research on people talking about themselves vs other topics. One study paid people for answering questions about themselves and other people: it found that people preferred to talk about themselves than other people or factual topics:

When payoff amounts were equal between question types, participants chose to answer self questions 69 and 66% of the time over other questions and fact questions, respectively.

They also found that people preferred to talk about themselves than other people even if they were paid more to talk about other things.

They also performed studies of the brain using fMRI imaging to analyse the mesolimbic dopamine system which is associated with reward-based behaviour.

First, we observed a significant main effect of self > other [F(1,16) = 7.73, P = 0.013, d = 0.70], again suggesting that introspecting about the self is more rewarding than considering the opinions of others. Second, we observed a significant main effect of sharing > private [F(1,16) = 17.02, P = 0.001, d = 1.03], suggesting that disclosing information to other people is more rewarding than merely introspecting about one’s opinions privately.

They concluded that talking about oneself was intrinsically rewarding, in much the same way as the body rewards other activities like eating and sex:

Here, we suggest that humans so willingly self-disclose because doing so represents an event with intrinsic value, in the same way as with primary rewards such as food and sex. Intriguingly, findings also suggested that both parts of “self-disclosure” have reward value. Although participants were willing to forgo money merely to introspect about the self and doing so was sufficient to engage brain regions associated with the rewarding outcomes, these effects were magnified by knowledge that one’s thoughts would be communicated to another person, suggesting that individuals find opportunities to disclose their own thoughts to others to be especially rewarding.

The study does not specifically address the topic of what percentage of people this is true for, but it showed a significant effect across the entire group, and the paper says "participants showed a consistent preference for answering questions about the self", which suggests a majority rather than a small number of people skewing the results.

Source: "Disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding", Diana I. Tamir and Jason P. Mitchell, Edited by Michael S. Gazzaniga, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, and approved March 27, 2012 (received for review February 7, 2012), PNAS, May 7, 2012, 109 (21) 8038-8043, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1202129109

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  • I suspect this inclination is not totally independent of personality factors though, like narcissism and possibly even extroversion. Can't find any research on that correlation though. Nov 11, 2023 at 8:52
  • OTOH a search within papers citing that one, turn up that on FB at least, narcissists prefer to talk more about themselves than the average participant ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/7396856 Nov 11, 2023 at 9:00

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