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The Most E-Mailed Story

On The Media [transcript] has a fascinating exploration of what makes a story on a news website climb up the “most e-mailed articles” list. The most common factor among them? Awe:

We had a number of research assistants read stories and we described to them what the concept of awe is; it’s something that opens the mind and is inspiring. And we made sure that they had a good understanding of this concept. We had them read some articles with us and come to a conclusion about what an awe-inspiring piece would be. And then they rated about 3,000 stories each on how much awe they inspired…

One is “Rare Treatment is Reported to Cure AIDS Patient.” Another story was called “The Promise and Power of RNA.” A final example would be “Found: An Ancient Monument to the Soul,” a story about the archeological discovery of an inscription on a Turkish monument from the eighth century, indicating a belief that the body and the soul were separate. What we find interesting is the connectivity issue. People tend to proselytize about awe-inspiring experiences. This is one of the main ways that religion has been thought to spread. When I have an amazing experience, I tell others about it.