What happens in your brain when you watch that adorable cat video everyone's posting on Facebook? Well, we always assumed it was something like "Squeeeeeeeee!!!!!," but it turns out, there's a more scientific explanation. Figuring out just what makes something go viral is a quest that has enthralled many an editorial team and advertising junkie alike, and now, scientists just might have an answer.
Professor Matt Lieberman of UCLA and Emily Falk, director of the UPenn communications neuroscience lab did some digging inside the human mind. Using an fMRI scanner, they tested subjects as they heared pitches for new film ideas. The subjects then discussed the ideas with their fellows and ranked how likely they would be to share each film with a friend. What the results found was not some key combination of kittens, transformers, and Justin Bieber but rather a common reaction within the brains of each subject when hearing about a successful idea. Lieberman explained the results to Co.Exist, saying that he originally expected to see activity in regions associated with communication and memory. But instead, things lit up in the bilateral TPJ area of the brain, which is "associated with thinking about the minds of other people." What that means, essentially, is that when you're experiencing a viral idea, you're wondering and imagining how it will be perceived by others. It's commonly referred to as the "mentalizing network," and it's a strange phenomenon, particularly because it has been observed activating when test subjects are at rest between two given tasks.
It might sound obvious, but this was a pretty surprising finding for the researchers. "I don’t think we realize that we’re filtering ideas about the world in that way," says Lieberman. Of course, it hasn't yet been determined whether this can predict the actual success of an idea, rather than just the subject's opinion on its success. But Lieberman and Falk are planning lots of new research that could help pin down exactly what this means for the future of the Internet, Hollywood, publishing, and much more. Get the whole, fascinating story here!