The science of sharing: Why we ‘like’ and ‘retweet’

Thousands of years before social media, humans shared stories and ideas. Today, digital media has made it easier to pass information along.

So how does a newsmedia outlet get people to retweet and share information with their circles of online friends and followers? “Pull their heartstrings, piss them off, make them laugh,” Fast Company reported today, explaining the results of a new study published in Psychological Science.

When emotional stimuli are aroused, the autonomic nervous is activated, which in turn boosts social transmission, the study, authored by Jonah Berger, explains. That means that when people feel fearful, angry or amused due to information, they are more likely to share it.

“In a prior paper, we found that emotion plays a big role in which New York Times articles make the most emailed list. But interestingly, we found that while articles evoking more positive emotions were generally more viral, some negative emotions like anxiety and anger actually increased transmission while others like sadness decreased it. In trying to understand why, it seemed like arousal might be a key factor,” Berger said, according to Medical Xpress.

Berger came to his conclusions after doing two experiments: having 93 students watch a sequence of video clips that made them nervous, amused, sad or calmly satisfied. They were then showsn a clip that was emotionally neutral, and asked whether they would share it with family or friends. Other groups sat still or jogged a minute before reading a news article online, and then were told that if they wanted to, they could send that article to anyone they liked, Fast Company explained.

The results of both tests were the same: the content that resulted in higher physiological “arousal” made the students more likely to share it.

Image: NaDovo’s flickr photostream

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