There are an abundance of lists on the internet. Thanks to the likes of Buzzfeed and Mashable with a simple Google search can find a list for pretty much anything. And it’s normally only when we reach number 3 on “This year’s 5 hottest summer insoles” that we begin to wonder why..
People gravitate towards reading list-type articles in preference to straight blocks of content. But why do we love them? Simply because our minds like order. So in true list fashion, here are five reasons we love our lists…
1. We know what to expect
Whenever we encounter new information, our brains immediately try to make sense of it. Once they figure out what we’re seeing in a physical sense, they work to provide personal context and decide if it’s relevant enough to focus on further. Where lists are concerned this is done instantaneously; we don’t even realise we’ve made a choice in the time our minds have selected one path or another. Our gaze either stops, or we simply keep scanning.
2. It’s easier to remember
Lists tap into our preferred way of receiving and organising information at a subconscious level. Because of this, from an information-processing standpoint, they often hit our attentional sweet spot. When we process information, we do so spatially. For instance, it’s hard to memorise a shopping list off by heart if it’s written as prose; but, it’s a lot easier to remember everything if we write it in bullet points or numbers. Even if we misplace it, it becomes easier for us to recall what was on it because we can think back to the location of the words themselves.
3. They are more attractive
An article that is numbered has several features that make it a lot more captivating. For starters, the headline is eye catching and positions its point of reference within an existing chronological system. It spatially organises the information, and it promises a story that’s fixed, with a readily-quantified length. These things together aid in creating an easier reading experience. We really are lazy, aren’t we?
4. They make us feel better
Believe it or not, in 2011, the psychologists Claude Messner and Michaela Wänke investigated what, if anything, could alleviate the so-called ‘paradox of choice’ – the phenomenon that the more information and options we have, the worse we feel. They concluded that we feel better when the amount of conscious work we have to do in order to process something is reduced. So the faster we decide on something – whether it’s what we’re going to eat or what we’re going to read – the happier we become. Within the context of articles featuring lists, with their many choices, a list is the easy pick because we know what we’re in for. The more we know about something, the greater the chance we will commit to it.
5. We have short attention spans
In the current media environment, a list is perfectly designed for our brain. We are drawn to it intuitively, we process it more efficiently, and we retain it with little effort. Faced with a detailed discussion about the current state of the UK’s economic policy or ‘Top 10 Things Our Government Wastes Its Money On’ we will almost always choose the latter bite-sized option, even when we know we will not be entirely satisfied by it.