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Research explores the emotions of clickbait

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On the web, we’re all striving to have our content read by as many people as possible.  Indeed, I wrote recently about a recent study that looked into content creation online, and it concluded that making it very easy to create content can often discourage people from doing so because the competition is so fierce.

Of course, when competition for eyeballs increases, it’s tempting to try and lure people to your stuff through various underhand ways.  Clickbait is a manifestation of this, as content is produced not so much for its inherent value but to encourage us to click through, and therefore to see the adverts that fund the site.

A recent study has explored the world of clickbait, and particularly the emotions that are invoked when we click through to read a story.

The emotions of clickbait

The study saw an analysis of a website whereby stories are rated according to the emotion each piece generates.  The authors believe this provides insight into the emotions of viral content.

When emotion has been traditionally explored, it’s been done through the three dimensional lens of Valence-Arousal-Dominance.  The theory is that every emotion has either positive or negative valance, together with an arousal level (ie high for anger, low for sadness), whilst dominance is the control we exert over our emotions.

The theory tested in the paper was that virality can be determined by the position of the emotion invoked by the content in this model.

Sites such as Rappler.com and Corriere.it have begun recently to collect emotional data from readers, with a collective pool of some 65,000 stories rated for the mood they invoke in readers.

The researchers used this data together with the number of comments each story generated and the number of shares it received online, to explore any links between emotions and virality.

The key emotions

The analysis revealed that there were certainly some emotions that played a key role in the virality of content.

“These configurations indicate a clear connection with distinct phenomena underlying persuasive communication,” the authors say.

Interestingly, there were distinct emotions that seemed to provoke comments and votes.  For instance, articles would generate a lot of comments if they provoked high arousal emotions such as happiness or anger, or alternatively emotions such as fear or sadness.

Votes however, seem to be motivated more by emotions we’re in control of, such as inspiration.

The valence of an emotion (ie whether it’s positive or negative) didn’t seem to have any impact at all.

Suffice to say, this shouldn’t be taken as any kind of secret sauce to viral success, but nevertheless, the findings are interesting, and hopefully will provoke further research into the topic.

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