New research indicates that we pass on information mainly for emotional, not rational, reasons
At the height of the Anthony Weiner scandal, there was much speculation as to why he shared photos of himself in the locker room. A new Psychological Science study suggests one unexpected hypothesis: Weiner tweeted because he had just worked out.
Several researchers have shown that heightened emotions drive people to share information. This recent study by Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger suggests, however, that what truly matters is how physically or emotionally stimulated people are when they process the information, not its emotional content. The findings build on Berger's 2009 study in which he found that articles that evoke strong emotional responses, such as awe, anger, or anxiety, were more likely to populate The New York Times most-emailed list.
"Companies, organizations, and individuals all want people to share their content," Berger says, "but they need to understand why people talk or share certain things to make this happen."
In his latest study, Berger measured how various emotional and physical stimuli designed to activate the autonomic nervous system affected the likelihood that subjects would share emotion-free news articles. In one experiment, he primed 93 respondents with pre-tested video clips to produce emotional states associated with high arousal (anxiety, amusement) and low arousal (sadness, contentment). Then, in what participants were told was an unrelated trial, Berger presented the respondents with neutral articles and videos, and asked them to rate how inclined they were to share these news items with friends, family members, and coworkers. The result: "Situations that heighten arousal boost social transmission," Berger concludes.