The Psychology Of Clickbait

Derek Thompson explains why readers tend to prefer light fare to hard news:

The culprit isn’t Millennials, or Facebook, or analytics software like Chartbeat. The problem is our brains. The more attention-starved we feel, the more we thirst for stimuli that are familiar. We like ice cream when we’re sad, old songs when we’re tired, and easy listicles when we’re busy and ego-depleted. The Internet shorthand for this fact is “cat pictures.” Psychologists prefer the term fluency. Fluency isn’t how we think: It’s how we feel while Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 11.28.15 AMwe’re thinking. We prefer thoughts that come easily: Faces that are symmetrical, colors that are clear, and sentences with parallelisms. In this light, there are two problems with hard news: It’s hard and it’s new. (Parallelism!) Fluency also explains one of the truisms of political news: That most liberals prefer to read and watch liberals (because it feels easy), while conservatives prefer to read and watch conservatives (because it feels easy).

Maybe the Dish is an anomaly: Of yesterday’s five most-read posts, three were about Iraq and two were about Hillary Clinton. In the last month, the top posts were about transgender politics, the right’s response to Bowe Bergdahl’s capture, and increasing polarization. And judging by the inbox response, we’re not massaging anyone’s biases.

Why do we buck the trend? One reason may be that in the last year and a half, we are not trawling for pageviews as our core metric of success. Our subscription-based model both helps us avoid dumb clickbait tricks and to cultivate a readership that actually does want an oasis of some seriousness online. Not that we don’t beard-blog and beagle-blog and host a weekly contest. It’s just that the many mental health breaks we provide don’t drive our traffic – or undergird our financial stability.

(Insert: from Clickhole)