People who don’t read the news foresee which articles will go viral

Figuring out how to make articles and videos go viral is the holy grail for any content creator. Although a magic formula remains elusive, in recent years, neuroscientists have forecasted which content will go viral by showing it to a small number of people and observing their brain activity.

Now, they’ve taken that research a step further, looking at which people are best at predicting what will go viral.

In an upcoming article in the journal Cerebral Cortex, researchers at Penn and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory analyzed the brain responses of 40 people as they read real New York Times health article headlines and abstracts. Which individuals were best able to predict the popularity of those articles among real readers? Those who don’t regularly read the news.

Bruce Doré

The researchers looked specifically at the brain’s ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), which supports judgments about how valuable something is. High levels of activity in that part of the brain not only reflected how much that individual wanted to read the story, but also tracked with how popular the article was on the New York Times website.

“The problem with the brains of the frequent news readers is that they showed a high value signal to all of the articles—in other words, they responded positively to all the New York Times stories,” says study lead author Bruce Doré, a postdoctoral fellow in the Communication Neuroscience Lab at the Annenberg School for Communication. “It was the infrequent news readers whose brains were differentiating between the heavily-shared articles and the less popular ones. Their brains were able to diagnose which articles would go viral.”

Read more at the Annenberg School for Communication.