Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Psychology of Clickbait

This article will not restore your faith in humanity. Nor will it amaze, stun, delight, shock, charm, or in any literal or figurative way, blow your mind. What it will do—hopefully in a clear and intelligent way—is explain why people continually fall for clickbait. You know, like you just did a few seconds ago.

Whether you think it’s on the rise, obscurant and self-negating, not such a big deal, or the root of all evil, one thing is clear about clickbait: It’s increasingly hard to pin down. Some, like Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith, narrowly define it as an article that doesn’t deliver on its headline’s promise. Others think it means vapid listicles, quizzes, and Betteridge’s Law headlines. And then there are those who simply use it as shorthand for stuff they don’t like on the Internet.

Here’s what most people can agree on: Clickbait is annoying, but by god, it works—even when readers recognize it for what it is. The word’s substantial semantic drift may be behind some of this effectiveness. But a hefty helping of behavioral science is at play, too. As a number of new studies confirm, you can blame your clickbait habit on two things: the outsized role emotion plays in your intuitive judgements and daily choices, and your lazy brain.

Manufacturing Emotion

Clickbait doesn’t just happen on its own. Editors write headlines in an effort to manipulate you—or at least grab your attention—and always have. “Headless Body In Topless Bar,” and “Sticks Nix Hick Pix” wouldn’t exist if publications didn’t care about attracting eyeballs. The difference with clickbait is you’re often aware of this manipulation, and yet helpless to resist it. It’s at once obvious in its bait-iness, and somehow still effective bait.

by Brian Gardiner, Wired |  Read more:
Image: Robbie Porter/Getty