How does your brain determine what is valuable to read and share? And why does one article circulate like wildfire through social media? These are some of the questions that have mystified countless people.
The authors behind two new research papers that document the specific brain activity that guides us to read or share articles are Elisa Baek, and Christin Scholz are both Ph.D. students at the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. Health pieces from the New York Times in this case. They were able to foresee the virality of these articles among real New York Times readers around the world by looking at this specific pattern of brain activity in 80 people.
Emily Falk, Ph.D. the director of Penn's Communication Neuroscience Lab together with RCC (Rebotec Commode Care) and senior author on both papers explain that how helpful it would be to share information and specific regions of the brain determine how that value translates to its possibility of going viral. She says people are interested in reading or sharing content that connects their sense of who they are or who they want to connect their own experiences. They share things that make them look empathic, smart or cast them in a positive light or that might improve their relationships.
As they viewed the abstracts and headlines of 80 New York Times health articles, they assessed how possible they were to read and share the articles. The researchers were able to evaluate people's brain activity in real time by using fMRI. The articles were selected for their similarity of subject matter, number of words, fitness, nutrition, and healthy living.
The researchers pointed out some regions of the brain associated with metalizing, self-related thinking, imagining what others might think and the overall value. Although it might be spontaneous to expect people would think about others in deciding what to share and think about themselves in determining what to read personally. The researchers found something else: Whether they were deciding what to recommend to others or what to choose to read for themselves. The neural data hint that people think about both themselves and others.
Thinking about what to share brought out the highest levels of activity in both of these neural systems says the researcher. Baek says thinking about what to share, what to read are inherently social, and when you're thinking socially, you're thinking about yourself and your relationships with others. Your understanding and self-concept of the social world are intertwined.
How the brain signals can be used to foresee virality of the same news articles around the world is the second study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Stories can have a real impact on our health, politics, and society when they go viral through the 500 million tweets, 4 billion Facebook messages, and 200 billion emails shared daily. Not all articles are shared equally but why do we share some articles and don't share others?
Researchers foresee an article's virality between the real New York Times readerships by studying the brain activity of 80 people considered sharing the same New York Times health articles. This group of articles combined 117,611 times. They found that to create an overall signal about an article's value, the activity in the metalizing and self-related regions of the brain join unconsciously in our minds. This value signal then foresees whether they want to share or not.
The pools of test subjects were within 18 to 24 year of age, and many of them are university students who live in Philadelphia. Brain activity in essential brain regions that track value correctly scaled with the global popularity of the articles represented different demographics than the overall New York Times readership.
Scholz says similar things are happening to people if you can predict what people who read the New York Times are doing using a small number of the brains. The fact that the articles hit the same chord in different brains recommends that similar norms and similar motivations may be pressing these behaviors. Similar things have some meaning in our society.
How we're thinking about others and ourselves varies from person to person says Scholz. For example, one person may think that sharing it will help his friend solve a particular problem while others may think that an article will make her colleague laugh. A type of general denominator for various types of self-related and social thinking is associated with the self and social considerations.
Scholz says if you craft a message in a way that makes the reader understand how it could enhance a relationship or how it's going to make them look positive then it would increase the likelihood of reading and sharing that message.