What types of article or email get forwarded on to others? Awesome ones, according to this article in the New York Times. It is based on this piece of research (a pdf) by UPenn researchers, into what NY Times articles got forwarded the most.
“Awe-inspiring articles are more likely to be among the newspaper’s most e-mailed stories on a given day. Practically useful, surprising, positive, and affect-laden articles are also more likely to be viral. The magnitudes of these relationships are considerable.”
Building on prior research, the Penn researchers defined awe as an “emotion of self-transcendence, a feeling of admiration and elevation in the face of something greater than the self.” They used two criteria for an awe-inspiring story: Its scale is large, and it requires “mental accommodation” by forcing the reader to view the world in a different way.”
“It involves the opening and broadening of the mind.”
Awe is something that we often consciously sought t arouse in readers when I was in journalism: space, nature, science, technology, weather, human achievement could all do it, and pictures were great at bringing it to life. Politics could do it too: think about the Prague Velvet Revolution.
My sense is that the virality of this has something to do with what we feel about ourselves, but also what we want others to think of us… it is socially reflexive.
I am really interested in this and will try to come back to it.