Study Says Our Brains Know What News Stories Will Go Viral

human brain imaging (Shutterstock)

Ever wonder what makes a news story go viral, or even what makes an individual share them in the first place? According to a new study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on Monday, it may be more simple than you would think, with our brains doing a specific calculation that weighs how shareable a piece of content is. Our brains determine our own interest in a story; consequently, if sharing it could benefit us socially, the brain’s value system gets involved, and then we subconsciously do some math. That ends with you clicking “share” or ignoring the social media buttons on an article.

“It’s cool that the brain has developed this kind of specialized ability,” said Emily Falk, senior author of the journal article and director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Communication Neuroscience Lab, told ArsTechnica. “But our data suggests that two of the really important inputs to ‘the value signal’ are these potentially holistic assessments of how self relevant and socially relevant information is.” When the researchers saw an uptick in value-processing activity, the story being viewed at the time was one that went viral.

It’s not all the way there yet: When mixed with responses to the researchers’ survey, they could only resolve about one fifth of variation in sharing news. While not just able to predict what will go viral, it’s also double what previous studies accounted for.

[image via shutterstock]

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