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Updated by Nick Kellet on Nov 13, 2015
Headline for Psychology of Lists
Nick Kellet Nick Kellet
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Psychology of Lists

Why do we find it appealing to consume information in the form of numbered lists?



Lists are Skimable

Lists are Skimable

Lists make a promise to the reader. List posts say this is going to be easy to consume.

When you open a list to read, you expect to be able to skim.

Lists are infosnacks. Lists give us easy to consume soundbites - lists are little gems of knowledge.

We skim lists for 2 reasons

  1. "To prove we are smart"
  2. "To make us smarter"

Lists Prove We Are Smart

Lists Prove We Are Smart

Who doesn't want to be proved to be smart? It's human nature. We all like to feel good. Being smart is incredibly self-validating.

We only skim lists that speak to our heart space. We explore lists that cover our passions.

We expect to know a lot of the information on lists that we skim. part of the value of skimming is to validate ourselves.

We are defined by our preferences and we are eternally attracted to topics we care about. We also like and connect with other people who like what we like.

Lists help us find people like us.


Lists Make us Smarter

Lists Make us Smarter

When we skim a list and we know the first 4 items, we are happy - we think we are smart. We know our stuff.

When we come to the fifth item on the list and it is new to us, lists make us smarter. Lists fill in gaps in our knowledge and this is highly rewarding.

Lists give us snippets of news that we can share with friends / connections that share our passions.

Lists provide a quick and effective way to find new cool stuff to share.

Lists make us interesting.


Lists Provide Random Reward

Lists Provide Random Reward

If every list post was awesome, that would soon get boring.

Some lists are ok, some are good and some are amazing.

The reward that any individual list brings is totally random.

Opening a list is like scratching a lottery ticket. You could win big, but chance are you won't.

This kind of random reward schedule appeals to people.

To this end, lists are perfectly gamified. Lists provide a random reward schedule just like Vegas