MAR 06, 2017 5:48 AM PST

This is Your Brain on Social Media

What does it take to make an article or video “go viral” online? Social media managers and (Search Engine Optimization) SEO professionals like Daniel Foley, are the experts on using the right hashtags and buzzwords, but it’s also been the subject of some neuroscience research as well. Recently, a video of a group of turkeys circling a cat in the road was trending and next week it could be a laughing baby or a puppy that barks out the alphabet. The question becomes, why do people share this stuff? What happens in the brain that makes a person decide to share something?
Two Ph.D. students at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania wanted to find out as well, and they turned to functional magnetic resonance imaging of the brain (fMRI) to see specifically the kind of brain activity that goes on when articles are read and the decision to share them (or not) is made. Christin Scholz and Elisa Baek, from the university are the two lead authors behind a pair of research papers that documented this decision making for the first time. The patterns of brain activity that were found were also analyzed, allowing researchers to reliably predict which articles most people would choose to share and the chances of them going viral.
 
Emily Falk, Ph.D. and senior author along with Scholz and Baek on both papers is the director of Penn's Communication Neuroscience Lab explained that certain areas in the brain are active in the decision to share an article via social media. She stated, "People are interested in reading or sharing content that connects to their own experiences, or to their sense of who they are or who they want to be. They share things that might improve their relationships, make them look smart or empathic or cast them in a positive light." Rather than the decision being about whether someone’s friends might enjoy a particular article, for the subjects in the study, it came down to deciding if an article would make them appear smarter or nicer in the eyes of their friends.
 
To get uniform results, the study used articles that concerned similar subject matter. All of the articles were from the New York Times and were about health lifestyle choices, fitness or nutrition and they all had about the same amount of words. 80 test subjects read the headlines and short descriptions of articles and then decided whether or not to share them. Investigators were able to see the brain activity as it happened, in real time with the use of fMRI scans. Areas of the brain that showed activity were those involved with imagining what others might think and areas involved in self-related thinking.
 
The second paper dealt with the ability of researchers to accurately predict which articles would be shared more. The brain activity was used to assign a value to each article. The more activity each article generated in the key brain areas, the more likely it was to go viral. Analyzing the brain activity in real time was found to be a useful took in predicting virality of certain articles. Social media experts know that the more an article is shared, the more it actually influences behavior, so seeing this kind of data, even in just a small study, is something SEO professionals will be looking at closely. Check out the video below to learn more about the research.

Sources: University of PennsylvaniaProceedings of the National Academy of SciencesCosmosMagazine.com

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
AUG 28, 2021
Neuroscience
Virtual Reality Reduces Pain in Children During Medical Procedures
AUG 28, 2021
Virtual Reality Reduces Pain in Children During Medical Procedures
Virtual reality (VR) reduces pain and anxiety in children undergoing medical procedures. The corresponding study was pub ...
SEP 07, 2021
Health & Medicine
Think you can pay back your sleep debt this weekend? Think again.
SEP 07, 2021
Think you can pay back your sleep debt this weekend? Think again.
Researchers find that even one night of sleep loss results in impaired functioning and well being.
SEP 22, 2021
Technology
Routine Blood Test May Show Link Between Schizophrenia and Cardiovascular Disease
SEP 22, 2021
Routine Blood Test May Show Link Between Schizophrenia and Cardiovascular Disease
It is well documented that people with schizophrenia are at higher risk of developing metabolic disorders, a collection ...
SEP 27, 2021
Health & Medicine
Gender-affirmation Surgery in Transgender Patients - Evidence for Regret?
SEP 27, 2021
Gender-affirmation Surgery in Transgender Patients - Evidence for Regret?
Gender-affirming care is a broad term used to describe medical, psychosocial, and surgical interventions delivered to tr ...
OCT 12, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Is It the Junk [DNA] That Makes Our Brains Human?
OCT 12, 2021
Is It the Junk [DNA] That Makes Our Brains Human?
Scientists have long sought to understand what makes us human. From the standpoint of DNA sequences, we have a lot in co ...
OCT 14, 2021
Cannabis Sciences
Cannabis Use for Migraine Relief-New Horizons
OCT 14, 2021
Cannabis Use for Migraine Relief-New Horizons
Imagine having to leave a meeting or special occasion to go into a room, close the blinds, lie on the floor, and wait fo ...
Loading Comments...