Picture this: You're scrolling through Facebook or Twitter. You spot a news article. Maybe it has a catchy headline or an interesting picture. Maybe it's about a topic you really care about or want to learn more about. Maybe you're simply killing time. So, you click on the link. You read the story. But, do you share it? And if you do, what compels you to share it? Why people choose to read and share certain news stories to such a degree that they go viral is being studied
at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn).
In one study, researchers measured the brain activity of people as they read headlines and summaries of health-related articles from the New York Times. Specific regions of the brain were monitored to see what happened as participants rated how likely they were to read and share the articles.
Contrary to expectations that people would think of themselves while deciding what to read and think about others while deciding what to share, researchers found people think of both themselves and others while choosing stories to read or share.
"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," explains Dr Emily Falk
, the director of UPenn's Communication Neuroscience Lab. "They share things that might improve their relationships, make them look smart or empathic or cast them in a positive light."
A related study showed how the brain is capable of calculating the "value" of reading and sharing certain stories over others. Using this data, researchers claim a simple calculation could potentially be used to predict the "virality" of news articles.
So, will you be sharing this article?