• The study found that people pay more attention to information they perceive to be related to themselves.
• If your posts go viral, probably the content you are posting is seemingly relevant, funny or relatable to many people.
Studies have shown that the average internet user spends nearly three hours a day using social media.
It is clear that social media is becoming increasingly crucial to sharing important information with the public.
From YouTube vlogs, Instagram photos, Tweets, and Facebook posts, different people post different things on different platforms.
A new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology explores the psychology behind sharing information online.
It turns out that the answer is quite straightforward.
Led by Danielle Cosme and Emily Falk of the University of Pennsylvania, they analysed the behavior of more than 3,000 individuals to explore the psychology behind sharing information online.
“People share information that they feel is meaningful to themselves or to the people they know,”Cosme says.
“This is what contributes to "value-based virality". Meaning, essentially that information on the internet can go viral because people find it inherently valuable, either to themselves or to society.”
This finding shows that people pay more attention to information they perceive to be related to themselves.
Then if you go viral, probably the content you are posting is seemingly relevant, funny, and relatable to many people.
“Similarly, humans are social beings and love to connect with each other. Sharing information activates reward centers in our brain. And when we communicate with others, we consider what the other person is thinking or wants to hear, a quality known as social relevance.”
How the study was done
Participants were exposed to articles and social media posts about health, climate change, voting, and COVID-19.
Some participants read headlines and summaries of news articles, others looked at social media posts.
All of the participants rated how likely they were to share each message and how relevant they found each one to themselves and to people they know.
The researchers found that no matter the topic covered or the medium of the message, people were most likely to say they would share messages that they perceived as self- or socially relevant.
"Sharing information is a critical component of individual and collective action," Cosme says.
"At the beginning of the pandemic, we needed to quickly spread accurate information about what was going on, how to protect ourselves, how to protect each other. Information spreading within social networks can be really impactful for changing our individual behavior, and also changing our collective behavior through shifting our perceptions of what's normative."
One way to improve content sharing is to recruit people who find the content self- or socially relevant to share messages online.
Another is to frame messages to be seen as more self- or socially relevant by audiences without tailoring the messages themselves.
"This study highlights key psychological ingredients that motivate people to share information about topics that impact our well-being," Falk says.
"Sharing is one key lever for shifting cultural norms and motivating larger scale action, so it's really important to understand what makes it happen."