Emotion: “Activating emotion is key to transmission”

Posted on behalf of Alexandria Hurley

Emotion is emphasized in both Made to Stick and Contagious.  The difference is on the emphasis.  In Made to Stick the ability for emotion to increase investment is emphasized.  For Contagious the transmission of ideas is more important.  The reasons behind transmission did not matter as much as the act of transmission itself.  Therefore, while concepts like empathy were emphasized in Made to Stick, in Contagious the more relevant emotions were anger and awe.

The first example of content that went unexpectedly viral was an article written in the New York Times about how a cough can be imaged.  Berger’s explanation for its rapid and extreme transmission was the articles ability to inspire awe.  “When we care, we share.”

The Wall Street Journal publishes a daily list of the most read and emailed articles which “enthralled” Berger.  After changing to an electronic form of data collection he used this information to look for trends of what emotions caused people to share.  Using previously discussed ideas about virality the researchers had the articles ranked by usefulness then analyzed to see if that coordinated with being shared.  “More interesting articles were 25 percent more likely to make the Most E-Mailed list.  More useful articles were 30 percent more likely to make the list.”  This didn’t explain why science articles were shared though.  These articles though often invoke awe, as does a lot of other viral content.

Awe is not the only emotion to inspire transmission though.  “Sadder articles were actually 16 percent less likely to make the Most E-Mailed list.”  Positive articles were 13 percent more likely to be shared than negative articles, but articles that evoked anger or anxiety were more likely to make the Most E-Mailed list.  From this data the researchers concluded that it was arousal that prompted sharing.  The more an article increased arousal the more likely it was to be shared.

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