A recent study , written by by John Tierney, of the most emailed New York Times articles yielded some unexpected results. Here’s how it was conducted:
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have intensively studied the New York Times list of most-e-mailed articles, checking it every 15 minutes for more than six months, analyzing the content of thousands of articles and controlling for factors like the placement in the paper or on the Web home page.
Here’s what they learned:
…it turns out that readers have more exalted tastes [than predicted], according to the Penn researchers, Jonah Berger and Katherine A. Milkman. People preferred e-mailing articles with positive rather than negative themes, and they liked to send long articles on intellectually challenging topics. Perhaps most of all, readers wanted to share articles that inspired awe, an emotion that the researchers investigated after noticing how many science articles made the list.
Makes perfect sense to me. So much of our culture can be dominated by cynicism and sharp edges. But in their private moments, people want to be inspired, to believe in joy and possibilities, and greater purpose. Sure, some of the emailed articles were done so to “show off” (the long, intellectual ones). But for the inspirational ones to lead the pack is downright, well, inspirational.