Feedback loops can be self-regulating, according to a team of mathematical biologists from the University of North Carolina, who found that most feedback loops take the form of “self-regulating information loops.” According to the article, published in the journal Scientific Reports, these self-regulating feedback loops include either immediate or delayed action.

“The results of our research suggest that feedback loops may function in many contexts (social media, for example), giving them at least the potential to be self-regulating,” said study co-author Javier Quijano, a mathematician at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

The study’s co-author, Siobhan Barrera, a postdoctoral researcher at UNC, said the research should not come as a surprise to anyone who relies on social media as a means to communicate with others. “We’ve been seeing increasing evidence, especially over the past decade, of this kind of information — digitally-generated feedback — that changes with response,” Barrera said.

Feedback loops can be dangerous in themselves — typically called contagion, depending on the data, for instance if a stranger “likes” or retweets something you shared, you might see it re-tweeted.

The UNC team conducted two experiments on sharing social media. The first used responses to a survey of 155 Facebook users when they were asked to share a split screen image and then follow a prompt to “friend” the person who had shared it. The second experiment used response to an advertisement with an option to receive a 100 cent Amazon gift card for following a link. In both experiments, people who received a social media prompt were more likely to share the photo or link, and the extra money that would come from following through.

“We need to take an honest-to-God hard look at the way we use and abuse the social media platforms we have,” Barrera said.