Sharing stories

For millennia humans have shared stories. Whether it has been around a fire, over the phone, or via Facebook and Twitter we love to share tales. It is through story telling and hearing that you learn about the world around you but some stories have greater impact than others and are more likely to be passed on. Now new research has found out what it is that makes a story one that you will want to share.

No matter how noble you may be, everyone is interested by a piece of “juicy” gossip. What is it though that juices up a story? In a previous study the authors of the new research had established that New York Times articles make the most emailed list when they evoke positive emotions but emotions like anger and anxiety also increased transmission. This prompted the researchers to wonder whether emotional arousal of any sort might be the key to what makes a story worth sharing.

To investigate they designed an experiment in which the subjects were divided into two groups. One group watched either a video that would generate anxiety or amusement (high arousal states) while the other watched something that would elicit sadness or contentment (low arousal states). Subsequently all subjects were shown an emotionally neutral video. After watching all videos the subjects were given the opportunity to share the content with friends and family. The results showed that people with high arousal emotions were much more likely to share.

In a second experiment the subjects were either asked to sit still for a while or to jog in place for a minute. Jogging is proven to increase levels of arousal. Both groups were then asked to read a neutral online news article and were told that they could email it to anyone that they wanted. Those who had jogged and were therefore “aroused” were much more likely to share the news than those who had been sitting.

This suggests that when people are psychologically aroused they are more likely to share. It is probably because arousal activates a part of the nervous system known as the autonomic nervous system and that, in turn, promotes sharing.

In the past then, arousal was what would determine whether a story was retold around the fire. Today, it determines whether a thought, message, or idea on the internet will go viral. For sales and marketing folk it means if you want people to talk about your brand then generate arousal, not sadness or contentment, around your message. Since marketers seem to rule the world these days, it’s no wonder society is so hyped. Maybe we need that “chill pill” to be developed sooner rather than later…or maybe we just need to meditate. A society full of meditating minds, now that’s a marketer’s nightmare!

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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