“Listicles” – Why We LOVE Articles with Lists

By Stacy Leighton

120-ThinkstockPhotos-86801292-sfwEvery day millions of people are actively engaged in a passionate love affair…with the internet. This paramour nurtures our intellect, inspires, educates and entertains us. We can get so swept away we lose track of time. Since our introduction to the World Wide Web, some 20 plus years ago, our lives have never been the same. At work or at play we love to search, skim, tweet, post, pin, share, like, and swipe left. Tech has become a culture, and as with any evolving culture it brings with it a new lexicon. Need to know something? “Google it.” Say something? “Tweet” or “blog” current events or news that’s “trending” or a “news feed.” And now there is a new love in town, an online informative style called “The Listicle” and boy, do we love it.

Here are the top four reasons we love Listicles:

  1. Tempus Fugit – When time is fleeting, brevity is king. Your marvelous brain will automatically scan the material providing a spatial assessment. This will determine if an article is time efficient without even reading a word. Bulleted or numbered lists are usually 120-ThinkstockPhotos-86801780-sfw brief, have a clearly stated beginning and end with a specific number of items in the middle. We will know just how much of our precious time will be required in an instant.
  2. Order vs Chaos – Articles with too much information may be overwhelming, resulting in a sort of mental paralysis by way of analysis. In this format, information is already sorted, categorized and ready to file. Listicles provide just enough related information in a predictable sequence as to make us feel organized. Additionally, studies show that when information is ‘categorized’ or in ‘chunks’ we are better able to memorize and recall it. This makes us so much more interesting.
  3. A Great Brain Break – Scanning articles for information can be boring, even tedious. Listicle titles are designed to stop your scanning in mid- stream. They are unique in that they combine numbers with catchy phrases, signaling your subconscious to ‘stop, pay attention, something is out of place.’ Unintentionally, your thoughts will stall, attempting to make sense of it. Your attention is grabbed, breaking up the monotony. These are a great brain break when intellectual fatigue looms. Try choosing something silly or outrageous, for example: 7 Stars You Won’t Believe Eat Spam or 6 Disney Movie Secrets that will Blow Your Mind. Moments later you will be feeling refreshed and ready to get back to work.
  4. Happy Endings – Well, they may not all have ‘happy endings,’ but the fact that they have a definite ‘end’ mak120-ThinkstockPhotos-86809274-sfwes us happy. This satisfies our innate need for completion. Social psychologist Robert Zajonc determined that people feel happiest when tasks are completed and decidedly anxious and unhappy when things are left incomplete (the Zajonc Effect). The brevity of Listicles, however benign, instills us with that sense of accomplishment upon their completion.

Yes, there’s a new love in town. The Listicle understands we are very busy and very important. We are accustomed to instant internet gratification and wary of information overload. Our time is finite and therefore at a premium. Listicles deliver articles that read like lists and feel like bullet points. But I think we love them most because they are devoured in moments and they make our brains happy.