Study: Positive content most likely to go viral

Content that evokes ‘high-arousal’ emotions—be it awe, happiness, or anger—is most likely to be shared.

What inspires you to share content you read online? Maybe you find it useful. Maybe it’s interesting or surprising. But more than likely, it makes you feel something.

Specifically, it makes you feel something that perks you up or gets your blood boiling. That was the finding of University of Pennsylvania Wharton School professors Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman in their study, “What Makes Online Content Viral?

“Positive content is more viral than negative content, but the relationship between emotion and social transmission is more complex than valence alone,” they wrote. “Virality is partially driven by physiological arousal. Content that evokes high-arousal positive (awe) or negative (anger or anxiety) emotions is more viral.”

The duo came to that conclusion upon studying how often people shared almost 7,000 New York Times articles by email. They used an automated process to determine how positive each article was—a computer scanned each article for “positive” or “negative” words and made an analysis. Human readers determined whether the articles inspired awe, anger, sadness, or other feelings.

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