Importantly, however, our findings also reveal that virality is driven by more than just valence. Sadness, anger, and anxiety are all negative emotions, but while sadder content is less viral, content that evokes more anxiety or anger is actually more viral. These findings are consistent with our hypothesis about how arousal shapes social transmission. Positive and negative emotions characterized by activation or arousal (i.e., awe, anxiety, and anger) are positively linked to virality, while emotions characterized by deactivation (i.e., sadness) are negatively linked to virality. More broadly, our results suggest that while external drivers of attention (e.g., being prominently featured) shape what becomes viral, content characteristics are of similar importance (see Figure 2). For example, a one-standard deviation increase in the amount of anger an article evokes increases the odds that it will make the most e-mailed list by 34% (Table 4, Model 4). This increase is equivalent to spending an additional 2.9 hours as the lead story on the New York Times website
How did this captain know, from fifty feet away, what the father couldn’t recognize from just ten? Drowning is not the violent, splashing, call for help that most people expect. The captain was trained to recognize drowning by experts and years of experience. The father, on the other hand, had learned what drowning looks like by watching television. If you spend time on or near the water (hint: that’s all of us) then you should make sure that you and your crew knows what to look for whenever people enter the water. Until she cried a tearful, “Daddy,” she hadn’t made a sound. As a former Coast Guard rescue swimmer, I wasn’t surprised at all by this story. Drowning is almost always a deceptively quiet event. The waving, splashing, and yelling that dramatic conditioning (television) prepares us to look for, is rarely seen in real life.