The feeling you get when someone pays you a compliment may not be as good as sex, but it likely feels similar — and that’s no coincidence. According to an article recently published on Vice, flattering comments from friends and strangers actually feel to the brain like miniature orgasms — resulting in that euphoric feeling we just can’t quit.
As it turns out, the reward centers of the brain that are triggered during sex (the ventral striatum and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex) are to blame for this. These centers also activate when someone tells you just how much they like your hair or that you’re looking great today — explaining why compliments feel so great.
Just like sex, when the praise is good we are left wanting more of the mini high. “The better the compliment, the greater the activity of these regions,” Christoph Korn, a postdoctoral fellow with the University of Zurich’s Computational Emotion Neuroscience lab, told VICE.
According to Sho Sugawawra, a researcher with the National Institute for Physiological Sciences in Japan, compliments do more than make us feel all kinds of good, they also help us learn. His 2012 research implies that when the brain receives praise from learning a new skill, it improves its ability to remember and repeat it through a process occurring during the sleep cycle called “skill consolidation.” Basically, 30 minutes after learning something new, memory and performance start to decline and don’t peak again until sleep, during which time compliments improve learning.
Korn suggested that receiving compliments can also push you toward situations in which you have to learn. He explained to Vice that when we receive good or bad feedback a process called “mentalizing” occurs. It’s a process in which we experience an increase of activity in areas of the cerebral cortex associated with evaluating and comparing ourselves to others, which determines how we feel about our own abilities and self-worth.
Korn points out that compliments are more influential when it comes to self-perception than criticisms because of something called “optimistic bias.” Basically, we get much more pleasure from praise, so we embrace it and take credit, but we tend to shun criticism without owning up to it. Guilty.
The bottom line: Compliments not only feel really good, but they also motivate us to be better people. “Overestimating your abilities might prompt you to work harder, exercise harder and approach new and challenging situations,” Korn concludes. “All of this may bear positive consequences that reinforce the initial optimism.”
So while real orgasms are best saved for the bedroom, you can always add a little euphoria to someone’s life by paying them a compliment.