With the average attention span of readers’ down to eight seconds (shorter than that of a goldfish), it’s no wonder the listicle’s easily digestible morsels of information have taken over as the preferred news format for many. You know the ilk: “7 Ways You’ll Know He’s The One,” or “21 Reasons to Try Poke Now.”
The argument on both sides of the listicle issue is fierce. The New York Times, for example, came to the listicle’s defense, after noticing the format achieved more organic traffic and clicks on one of its articles.
Here’s an excerpt: “Aaron Carroll’s ‘simple rules for healthy eating.’ It attracted a big audience, and it did so largely organically, through social media. It was smart and, yes, nuanced. People read it, found it useful and shared it with others. To put it bluntly, it was a better, more useful piece than it would have been as a 1,000-word essay or news article. Human beings often think in terms of lists, and there is nothing wrong with that.”
The Guardian, on the other hand, isn’t quite convinced as to the value of the controversial format, noting: “Clearly, ‘doing a BuzzFeed’ has been deemed to be the digital future for many online organizations who are so keen for their slice of the web traffic pie that they are turning away from reproducing traditional editorial styles online and instead opting to publish image led listicles easily comprehended by even the most anaesthetized office worker.”
Whether for the listicle or against it, there’s a scientific reason why it’s become so prevalent, and why content creators generally rely on odd numbers to provoke certain responses and drive engagement.
Though it may seem unlikely, writers, advertisers and marketers employ odd numbers to pique interest based on psychological reasons. Psychology teaches advertisers, marketers and content creators how consumers reason and select between different alternatives, how environmental situations affect actions, how thoughts and behaviors leading up to the moment of action form and how impulse control reasoning is a factor in the aforementioned. This knowledge can teach content creators how the principles of behaviorism can shape the actions of consumers, and therefore how to develop content that achieves a specific result.
Taking it one step further, neuromarketing, a field of marketing research that studies consumers’ cognitive and affective response to marketing stimuli, helps content creators understand audiences. Thus, utilizing this data, they are able to mimic scientific behavioral strategy: define what you want your audience to do, know who your audience is, observe actions, report results, incorporate what works repeatedly until it doesn’t…
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