I don't know about you, but I always check the New York Times most emailed list — there's always something I'll like on it. I've never been able to put my finger on why — until today, when I spied this article in, of course, the Times' most emailed section:
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have intensively studied the New York Times list of most-e-mailed articles, checking it every 15 minutes for more than six months, analyzing the content of thousands of articles and controlling for factors like the placement in the paper or on the Web home page.
So, what's the defining factor? It's not a salacious one, surprisingly. It turns out, inspiration is what makes people want to send a story to their friends.
People preferred e-mailing articles with positive rather than negative themes, and they liked to send long articles on intellectually challenging topics.
Perhaps most of all, readers wanted to share articles that inspired awe, an emotion that the researchers investigated after noticing how many science articles made the list. In general, they found, 20 percent of articles that appeared on the Times home page made the list, but the rate rose to 30 percent for science articles, including ones with headlines like "The Promise and Power of RNA."
I have to say — I understand why the article with these findings would become most emailed itself: it's inspiring, to say the least, that our first impulse is to share good news, and stories that open our world.