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Good News Spreads Faster and Farther than Gloomy News

Researchers are studying social media and the spread of good news and gleaning some very interesting findings. “By scanning people’s brains and tracking their e-mails and online posts, neuroscientists and psychologists have found that good news can spread faster and farther than disasters and sob stories,” says John Tierny in his 18 March 2013 New York Times article Good News Beats Bad on Social Networks”.

While bad news works to bring in viewers on traditional media, good news tends to be spread by your average Jane and Joe on social networking sites. And the more positive the story, the faster and farther it tends to spread, according to Jonah Berger, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also the author of Contagious: How Things Catch On, a book that describes how word-of-mouth works and how things go viral on social media and, most importantly, why.

Research by Mr. Berger and others working in this domain shows that positive stories get around more because people tend to write about what they think others will like – using the social side of their brains to appear positive in the eyes of others. This is a major break from traditional news outlets who are not out to please the public through silly cat videos, but to use shock and awe to draw viewers.

As part of their research, Mr. Berger and his colleagues also analysed “the most e-mailed” list of New York Times articles. One of the first findings was that science articles made the list more often than non-science articles, because science raises feelings of awe – a positive feeling to be shared. They also found that readers also shared articles that inspired other emotions, both good and bad, such as those that were exciting or amusing, or that produced ire or angst. But not stories that were gloomy.

“The ‘if it bleeds’ [it leads] rule works for mass media that just want you to tune in. They want your eyeballs and don’t care how you’re feeling. But when you share a story with your friends and peers, you care a lot more how they react. You don’t want them to think of you as a Debbie Downer,” says Mr. Berger.

So keep reading The Good Times and spread the good news!

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