A new fMRI study used neural activity in 80 people to accurately predict the virality of 80 New York Times health articles.
Well, it's the New York Times, a top five newspaper in the U.S. so the results are going to be skewed by that, as were the articles selected; the public loves weak observational claims about health and the demographic that reads the New York Times is most inclined to believe claims about miracle vegetables, scary chemicals and diet fads.
But one one article spreads like wildfire through social media and another doesn't is something everyone trying to monetize Internet content, including the money-hemorrhaging New York Times, would like to learn. So University of Pennsylvania communications grad students Christin Scholz and Elisa Baek measured people's brain activity in real time as they viewed the headlines and abstracts of 80 New York Times health articles and rated how likely they were to read and share them. The articles were chosen for their similarity of subject matter -- nutrition, fitness, healthy living -- and number of words.
The researchers honed in on regions of the brain associated with self-related thinking, regions associated with mentalizing -- imagining what others might think -- and with overall value.
Although it might be intuitive to expect people would think about themselves in deciding what to read personally and think about others in deciding what to share, the researchers found something else: Whether they were choosing to read for themselves or deciding what to recommend to others, the neural data suggest that people think about both themselves and others. predicted an article's virality among the actual New York Times readership, which shared this group of articles a combined total of 117,611 times.
They found that activity in the self-related and mentalizing regions of the brain combine unconsciously in our minds to produce an overall signal about an article's value. That value signal then predicts whether or not we want to share.
The pool of test subjects -- 18-to-24-year olds, many of them university students in Philadelphia -- are different demographics than the overall New York Times readership, but the authors contend that brain activity in key brain regions that track value accurately scaled with the global popularity of the articles.
Even though the pool of test subjects -- 18-to-24-year olds, many of them university students, living around Philadelphia -- represented different demographics than the overall New York Times readership, brain activity in key brain regions that track value accurately scaled with the global popularity of the articles.
Brain Images Of Sharing Predicts Which Articles Go Viral