What Makes A Meme Go Viral

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What Makes A Meme Go Viral

[INTRO] At some point, weve all wondered why something
as annoying as Friday or as delightful as Grumpy Cat can arrive so suddenly and overwhelmingly
in our Internet lives. The Dress was everywhere for three days in
2015, before everyone got over it. And who knows what picture or joke or video
will dominate your newsfeed next? So why do things go viral? To be honest, this isnt something a lot
of people have studied. Really, the only thing newer than the Internet
is taking the Internet seriously enough to publish a peer-reviewed study about it.

But, when it comes down to it, sharing on
the Internet is a lot like other kinds of social sharing. Gossip and urban legends spread like wildfire,
too. Both of these types of sharing have been shown
to be driven by emotion. And if you think emotion isnt everywhere
on the Internet, then this might be your first time on the Internet….

Welcome! It was this line of thinking that led a group
of researchers to look at almost 7,000 New York Times articles from three months in 2008. They were trying to figure out what kinds
of things got an article shared enough to make the Times most-emailed list. And emotion was the culprit, measured by both
computer algorithms with databases of words and humans. Although the Internet can seem like a cesspool
of negativity, the scientists actually found that articles that were emotionally positive
were more likely to be shared than those that were emotionally negative.

But an article that was very negative was
more likely to be shared than one that was only mildly positive. So it wasnt just whether the emotion was
positive or negative that mattered. It was also how arousing that emotion was:
if you got your lungs pumping and your heart racing a little bit. The same lead researcher did another study,
too, where they specifically looked at arousal.

They had 93 students watch videos that provoked
either contentment, amusement, sadness, or anxiety. Amusement and anxiety are both considered
high-arousal emotions, while contentment and sadness are considered low-arousal. They found that watching one of the high-arousal
videos made the viewer more likely to share a neutral article or video that they saw afterwards. And in second experiment with 40 participants,
the researchers found that even just making people run in place for a minute to increase
arousal was enough to increase sharing.

Which…What!? Wow. This might be partially why over-the-top clickbait
headlines work so welltheyre trying to shock you or make you laugh. But theres more to social sharing than
just arousal. The same researchers pointed to other factors
that seem to make something shareable, including how interesting, useful, and surprising it
is.

Like, yknow, ibexes licking salt off the
side of a nearly-vertical cliff because they crave that mineral. And sometimes what goes viral has little to
do with the content at all. Sometimes, its all about us. In the 1990s, a team of researchers proposed
a new idea for why people go along with trends and fads.

They called this concept an informational
cascade, which is what happens when one person makes a decision and then others, rather than
gathering information to make their own decision, base their decision on the first persons. It might seem like a silly thing to do. But if you think that someone elses decision
is based on factors that would guide your own, it can be easy to just agree with them,
whether theyre a friend or an expert. This hypothesis could help explain why you
might think one kind of car is safer than another, why everyone is wearing crop tops
this summer, or why books that hit the New York Times bestseller list tend to stay there
for a while.

And once momentum gets started, it keeps on
going, thanks to the bandwagon effect: the more people adopt an idea or belief, the more
likely others will too. Simply having the sense that many people support
an opinion or think a video is funny can cause others to retweet again and again. But memes dont last forever. And the idea of an informational cascade can
also explain why fads die  why yesterdays covfefe joke is todayslike, whatever
that is by the time this is uploaded.

The premise of an informational cascade is
that many peoples decisions are based on the research and thoughts of a few, hopefully
well-informed people.   But when a bandwagon grows, it doesnt increase
the amount of knowledge that went into that first shareable thing. Which means that receiving information that
contradicts the idea  maybe a recall from that super safe car company or some evidence
that a seemingly scientific fact was just a hyped-up rumor  can pretty easily dislodge
it. Or when the novelty wears off, because even
dramatic chipmunk isnt as hilarious when youve seen it 100 times, a meme might die
a natural death.

People are already jumping on the next bandwagon. So, while there are many, many things on the
Internet that remain mysterious, there is some sense to what goes viral. Its the stuff that makes us laugh, the
stuff that makes us mad, and the stuff that people we trust tell us we should share. Which is why you should definitely share this
video to everyone you know.

Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
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