Emily Falk

The old adage in media circles is that bad news sells. That operative rule has long shaped what TV and radio shows and newspapers choose to feature. But a March 18 column in The New York Times said that recent research is overturning that notion. An analysis of the “most e-mailed” stories on The Times website showed that positive stories, funny stories, and stories that ignite strong feelings like anger or anxiety were more likely to be shared than those that are simply sad. The article also cited work by ISR researcher Emily Falk showing that people don’t just think about their own interests when deciding what to share. Falk conducted experiments demonstrating that individuals are more likely to communicate a new idea to others if—when hearing the idea—a part of the brain lights up that is associated with thoughts about other people. “You’d expect people to be most enthusiastic and opinionated and successful in spreading ideas that they themselves are excited about,” Falk told The Times. “But our research suggests that’s not the whole story. Thinking about what appeals to others may be even more important.”