UCLA Study Maps Out Which Part of the Brain Makes Content Viral


What makes a video or a meme go viral? UCLA researchers may have found out what keeps viewers flocking to certain types of content.

They’ve discovered certain brain regions are associated with “buzz,” or the successful spread of ideas, in their study “Creating Buzz: The Neural Correlates of Effective Message Propogation,” published in this month’s issue of journal Psychological Science.

Matthew Lieberman, UCLA psychology professor and senior author of the study, noted that people are aware that the things they see could be interesting and helpful not only for themselves but for other people.

He added: “We always seem to be on the lookout for who else will find this helpful, amusing or interesting, and our brain data are showing evidence of that. At the first encounter with information, people are already using the brain network involved in thinking about how this can be interesting to other people. We’re wired to want to share information with other people. I think that is a profound statement about the social nature of our minds.”

The UCLA researchers presented a group of 19 students around 24 ideas for potential television programs ranging from relationships between beauty-queen mothers and a series about teenage vampires. Then they were asked to imagine themselves as interns for the television studios and to make videotaped analyses of the pilots.


Researchers also gathered a larger group of UCLA students who would act as producers to determine whether the pilots presented by the hypothetical interns would be greenlighted. The study’s authors wanted to determine which part of the brain was activated when the interns pitched the pilots. They found out that the interns who were good at convincing the producers had significant activity in the temporoparietal junction, or TPJ, when they first heard of the idea from the authors.

Lead author Emily Falk explained that significant activity in the TPJ, which is located in the outer surface of the brain that involves itself in what other people think or feel, was correlated with the increased ability to convince others of their favorite ideas.

She noted: “You might expect people to be most enthusiastic and opinionated about ideas that they themselves are excited about, but our research suggests that’s not the whole story. Thinking about what appeals to others may be even more important.”

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