Awe-Inspiring Emails

We will take a Valentine’s Day break from the death and/or future of journalism today with another look at the stuff people actually do read. With all of the social networking that’s going on, you may suppose that people would look at email as an outmoded medium.  But for sending links to articles that you’ve read, email still dominates the landscape.  What kind of articles we’re passing around was the subject of a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania.  They looked at the NY Times list of “most emailed articles”.  They updated it every 15 minutes over a six month period and then analyzed the contents of those articles to see what kinds of things spur us on to pass the message along.  What the researchers found was that positively themed articles, or long, intellectually challenging ones were those that we needed to communicate about the most. “Perhaps most of all, readers wanted to share articles that inspired awe, an emotion that the researchers investigated after noticing how many science articles made the list.” In fact, 30% of the science articles that appeared in the Times got passed around. The most important emotion that was likely to be shared was awe. 

“Emotion in general leads to transmission, and awe is quite a strong emotion,” [said Jonah Berger, one of the researchers on the project]. “If I’ve just read this story that changes the way I understand the world and myself, I want to talk to others about what it means. I want to proselytize and share the feeling of awe. If you read the article and feel the same emotion, it will bring us closer together.”

The article, of course, from the New York Times.

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