That Time David Bowie, Hunter S. Thompson, and Alan Rickman Dropped Acid: The Psychology of Clickbait Articles


Well to be honest it was actually never, well, at least as far as I know so….GOTCHA! You clicked! FOOLED YOU! Don’t you feel silly? Ha!

No wait, please don’t go away in a huff – I’m sorry about that clickbaitery. At least I didn’t make you watch a video, right?!? That’s like leaving someone a voicemail in this day and age. UHH – Who DOES that?!? Annoying people, that’s who.

So why DID you click? Perhaps my cursory search of top Googled names shoehorned into the title of an article piqued your interest somehow? Well it MUST have if you’re here. And why is that? Why do we click? I say WE because I’m not definitely not immune to the power of the Click Bait. Full disclosure: I’ve perused many a list or clicked an article on the promise of learning something juicy about a celebrity or discovering some other notable news bite. And I have certainly been let down just as many times as I’ve been mildly amused.

BuzzfeedSo what is it about those perfectly worded eye-catching titles? What makes them so irresistable? I maintain that these pithy promises represent a sense of HOPE and ALLURE. There’s the promise of getting in on the ground floor and potentially learning something before others in your social group. There’s a weird sense of pride to sharing something on your Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter feeds that your friends (or social network “Friends”) have yet to discover. I liken it to the music snobs who followed some obscure bands and then scoffed at you for liking them when they make it big because they used to like them “Before they were cool”. I suppose it’s similar to what journalists must feel when they’ve got their finger on the pulse of something – like an exclusive first scoop with bragging rights or breaking story.

Despite the appeal of “First Dibs”, I find that clicking and, ultimately, sharing, are tied to some kind of visceral emotional response. We want to find out about things that incense or disturb us. That move and inspire us. That titillate or humor us. In other words we are seeking to feel connected to something, oddly enough, in a milieu that’s generally devoid of feeling. In a way we become part of a self-reinforcing, perpetual loop of behavior. The clicking can become compulsive as we go all Ahab and obsessively search for our elusive white whale. I’m not saying that seeking out such distractions is inherently bad, but it certainly has the potential to get out of hand if you find yourself Keeping Up With the Kardashians more than, I dunno, Keeping Up With Your Family and Friendashians.

In the information age that we live consumers are inundated with words, images, and sounds across various devices and media platforms. Of course advertisers and journalists are chomping at the bit to herd the internet masses to supposedly greener pastures, well, greener for THEM anyway. Remember that the purveyors of clickbait generally don’t care if you actually learn anything of value – they are much more concerned with your clicky habits, particularly how those habits relate to the generation of revenue. Do you really want to line their pockets? I know we live in a capitalist society and all that. And more power to them if they’ve learned how to profit from your curiosity, but I say we make it a point to periodically not take the bait. Try looking out a window. Wave to a neighbor or passer-by (and forget their confused looks or a moment). Go to the park. Ride a bike. Travel somewhere you’ve never been. Take up a hobby. Try a different kind of cuisine. There’s a whole lot waiting for you out there, beyond your particular web browser of choice. Now go on – take your finger off the mouse….that’s it. Now….GO!

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