The Emotions of Highly Viral Content

Kristin Tynski Blog


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Goal: Our goal was to identify the most common emotions evoked by highly viral image content in order to gain a basis for understanding which emotions lend themselves to a viral result most often.

Medium Selection: We selected images for a few reasons. First, images are quickly and easily understood. Second, they engage a user with a single emotional event. In other words, there is only a single emotional reaction created by an image. This reaction may involve one or many emotions, but it is only one emotional activation. With written, animated, or video content, there can be several instances of emotional activation, making it more difficult to determine the specific emotional impetuses for sharing.

Image Selection: We looked to find a wide selection of highly popular images that had gone viral. To find these images, we selected images from the top 100 most popular images from imgur.com (one of the Internet’s most-used image hosting sites) over the last year as voted by Reddit.com. To do this, we searched Reddit.com by domain for imgur.com and organized by “Top” for the last year. This gave us a list of all imgur.com submissions over the past year, organized by popularity.  From the top 100 images, we selected 30 images that met the following criteria:

  • Could be understood easily without a large amount of previous knowledge

  • Were not memes or community-related jokes

  • Were static images

Survey Participants: Survey participants were randomly selected from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service. Users were not segmented by age, gender, or any other criteria. Completed surveys were carefully checked for completeness and accuracy (to be sure no one simply filled out answers at random). We selected 50 fully completed and accurate surveys to use as the basis for the heat map results.

Survey Selections: Each survey taker was asked to select the emotions they felt after viewing each image and the title of that image. They were asked to select up to one emotion per emotional category for each image. The emotions and emotional categories were based on the well-known and understood emotional categorization system created by Robert Plutchik. This “wheel” was also the basis for the heat map. The emotional categories and options were as follows:


The bulk result answers from the survey can be found in their entirety here. The emotional total counts used to create the final aggregate emotion heatmap is found at the top right. All other heat maps were created using the totals for each image, which progress down the rows with a double space between each image’s survey results.

View the aggregate results of all images combined


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