The Science of Sharing

I first became interested in the science of sharing when I saw Chip Heath give a fascinating presentation on the topic at Harvard (where I was a Ph.D. student). Chip was one of the first judgment and decision-making scholars to ask questions about what we share, and he talked about a series of laboratory experiments he had conducted exploring what kinds of stories are most likely to be passed along. During his talk, I began wondering if I could design a study to test some theories he described about what people share in a naturalistic context. 

My mind wandered to one of my favorite features on The New York Times website: a list of the day’s most widely shared articles, which I often trolled for inspiration. I realized that analyzing which stories earned a position on that list would be an ideal way to study the science of sharing “in the wild.” When I wrote Chip about my idea, he connected me with his student Jonah Berger, and we put our heads together to launch the project I had dreamed up. The paper produced years later is my most cited work and it inspired a spinoff piece examining what kinds of scientific research are most widely shared and why. 

Related media content:

☛ The Science of Sharing and the Sharing of Science (video)
Katherine Milkman
National Academy of Sciences 

☛ Will You Be E-Mailing This Column? It’s Awesome
John Tierney
The New York Times