In scientific research on what makes articles go viral, amusing stories were shared more frequently than less amusing ones.
Berger, who is now a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, worked with another Penn professor, Katherine Milkman, to put his interest in content-sharing to an empirical test. Together, they analyzed just under seven thousand articles that had appeared in the Times in 2008, between August 30th and November 30th, to try to determine what distinguished pieces that made the most-emailed list. After controlling for online and print placement, timing, author popularity, author gender, length, and complexity, Berger and Milkman found that two features predictably determined an article’s success: how positive its message was and how much it excited its reader. Articles that evoked some emotion did better than those that evoked none—an article with the headline “BABY POLAR BEAR’S FEEDER DIES” did better than “TEAMS PREPARE FOR THE COURTSHIP OF LEBRON JAMES.” But happy emotions (“WIDE-EYED NEW ARRIVALS FALLING IN LOVE WITH THE CITY”) outperformed sad ones (“WEB RUMORS TIED TO KOREAN ACTRESS’S SUICIDE”).