The psychology behind viral crazes.
The chronicles of the Internet Fad
The Internet is a colossal vacuum filled with mind-numbing content and repetitive cat videos (or strictly doggos if you're anything like me). However, what do we love even more than watching these fluffy moments? The answer is participating in it. Viral memes and challenges have become their own culture – they are infectious, gripping and can be slightly questionable in their intent. However, for fleeting moments these crazes tiptoe into our heads and overwhelm our Instagram feeds with something other than Kim Kardashian *sighs in relief*. Sorry, Northy.
Do you remember participating in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? Of course you do, we’re all still numb from 2015. Better yet, this challenge allowed us to reach our digital quotas of good deeds for an entire year. The feel-good vibe behind fads such as the condom challenge is slightly more dubious. Marketing Professor Jonah Berger alludes to the psychological reasoning behind such crazes, stating that “transmission is driven in part by arousal… emotions characterised by high arousal, such as anxiety or amusement will boost sharing more than emotions characterised by low arousal, such as sadness”. For this reason, it’s the scandalous, gruesome and life-threatening that digitally diffuse like gossip. We all fight the urge to press the button, don’t we?
Two more recent fads got me thinking what’s behind these crazes.
The Mukbang Challenge
Watching strangers eat is no longer strange, it’s a daily occurence. It’s 2018. You can admit that Nigella Lawson is more of a boss than Kanye, I sure as hell think so. However, the Mukbang Challenge has taken food shows to new heights (and weights). Originating in Korea, Mukbang involves vloggers live streaming whilst devouring an elaborate and calorie-intensive meal. I adore a Maccas cheat meal as much as (possibly more) than the next girl, but 50,000 calories in one sitting seems a tad on the excessive side.
The question persists: what’s so gripping about gorging your food in front of thousands of strangers? The answer is culturally embedded. In South Korea, many turn to Mukbang for attention and human interaction. The social arousal from this sensation correlates with insights stipulated by Berger, as he claims that “physiological arousal is characterised by activation of the autonomic nervous system and the mobilisation provided by this excitatory state”. If having a virtual meal constitutes as socialising and releases endorphins, count me in.
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