There are two kinds of people in this world: those who take online quizzes and those who scoff at the very idea. Admittedly, I am one of the former. I enjoy knowing what Hogwarts house I would be sorted into (Gryffindor, duh!), which hunky celebrity is my soul mate, and which Disney princess I most resemble. I know I’m not alone.
But these harmless little tests have gotten out of hand. I recently saw a link to “Can We Guess Your Taste in Men Based on Your Taste in Potatoes?”
No, Buzzfeed. No you can’t.
Of course, we all know these quizzes are silly, fun ways to pass time. Sometimes we feel absolutely childish when we click that tempting link and discover what Beatle we should have married. And yet, we continue to take click. What is happening?
Whatever the secret is, magazines have had it for years and years. They have lured readers, often young women, in by promising them insight into their own personalities. As almost all printed material did, these quizzes moved online.
The recent spike in quiz popularity is largely attributed to two quizzes: BuzzFeed’s “What city should you actually live in?” and the New York Times’ “How Y’all, Youse and You Guys Talk.” If you remember taking these two, you are far from alone.
The BuzzFeed quiz was viewed over 20 million times, and the New York Times quiz became the paper’s most-viewed story of the year, despite the fact that it was posted on December 21st.
What made these two quizzes take off like rockets was their sharing power. 75% of those 20 million views that the BuzzFeed quiz enjoyed were referred from social networks. There’s always one question that will sustain or kill a quiz: “Is this good enough to share with my friends?”
If enough people answer “yes,” the thing takes off. Jonah Berger, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania told Mashable, “These quizzes live and die by sharing. The successful ones are successful because people share them.”
Intuitively, this makes sense. Everything that goes viral does so because people share it. Sure, but what is making people share these things? There has to be something compelling people to share this type of entertainment.
The answer could be in our psychology.
Robert Simmermon, PhD., told Huffington Post that narrative psychology is probably at play here. “I think it’s fun, but I think it also does touch something about our own sense of our unfolding story,” he said.
Narrative psychology is the theory that people make themselves the center of their own story. We organize our lives into narratives that form a complete story that tells the world who we are. And in these stories, we make ourselves out to be heroes, never villains or sidekicks. Simmermon said this is why “you never see these quizzes, ‘Were you more like Hitler or Mussolini?'”
To add to the psychological reasons, Steven Meyers, PhD., asserts that these quizzes help us become more self-aware, whether there is any legitimacy to the quiz or not.
“You could introspect and think about yourself, however that has its limits,” Meyer said. “When we take these self-assessments it gives us another mirror inward.”
They allow us not only to ask who we are, but also to ponder on what others think of us and who we want to become. Those are deep questions, no doubt, and that level of introspection can be intimidating. Online quizzes give us a silly way to examine the questions.
Of course, there may be a simpler answer. Perhaps these quizzes are just fun. Perhaps they are nothing more than an entertaining way to pass the time. After all, who doesn’t want to know if BuzzFeed knows what type of significant other you desire, based solely on potato preference?
What do you think? Does the popularity of online quizzes give us a look into our souls? Or is everyone just goofing off?