The awesome power of awe

An analysis of the most frequently emailed New York Times articles reveals a surprising reason for article popularity: “of all the variables studied, Dr. Berger said, awe had the strongest relationship with an article making the most-e-mailed list”:

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. In general, they found, 20 percent of articles that appeared on the Times home page made the list, but the rate rose to 30 percent for science articles, including ones with headlines like “The Promise and Power of RNA.”

…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… Seeing the Grand Canyon, standing in front of a beautiful piece of art, hearing a grand theory or listening to a beautiful symphony may all inspire awe. So may the revelation of something profound and important in something you may have once seen as ordinary or routine, or seeing a causal connection between important things and seemingly remote causes.”

Posted by James on Tuesday, February 09, 2010