Malcom Gladwell Knows Why Quizzes are Irresistible

Think about the pieces of advice you remember the most. They probably came from your parents or a mentor, perhaps a great friend. They probably also came at an important time in your life when big decisions had to be made. The advice that was given to you either helped you succeed or caused you […]

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Think about the pieces of advice you remember the most. They probably came from your parents or a mentor, perhaps a great friend. They probably also came at an important time in your life when big decisions had to be made. The advice that was given to you either helped you succeed or caused you to fail, and you’ll never forget it. That advice was also practical and personal; it was something you could act on to help make that important decision. If the advice giver had given you some cliché piece of wisdom such as “The Early Bird Gets the Worm” you would have been confused and irritated because that advice was not applicable to you nor was it practical.

Something that fascinates me about the current structure of how content is produced on the web is the lack of personalization. I’ll click on articles that look interesting to me based on the headline, but with the recent rash of sensationalist headlines, it’s often difficult to judge an article by its title.

What I’m left with is articles written with someone else in mind that I take in and sometimes enjoy but often times finish feeling despondent as if I was just given a cliché quote that has nothing to do with me.

Thinking about this issue from the content producer side, it’s almost scary to imagine how many people I’ve disappointed with my writing because it just wasn’t written with them in mind. I can try to target a certain demographic, but I never really know who will catch wind of my writing and spend time reading it.

Looking at how quizzes have risen to prevalence lately really drives Gladwell’s point home. Quizzes don’t even always give accurate advice, but they do give personal (and sometimes practical) advice. The result is an epidemic of quiz sharing as people find their personalized result so memorable that it must be shared with all their friends.

Quizzes are well on their way to proving themselves as a form of content that isn’t going away. The most viewed item on the New York Times in 2013 was a quiz and the top quizzes on buzzfeed have been shared more than 3 million times each.

The unique value that quizzes are able to offer is an insight into your life. When you come to friends and family with your questions and problems, you explain the situation to them before they give advice. An online quiz will also take your information before giving out advice.

It’s almost as if quizzes are able to connect with people in a human way, forgetting the fact that they don’t actually give real advice and are in no way qualified to analyze your life. However, I think quizzes have done just enough to be convincing and persuade people that their results are real.

Never mind that Ellen Degeneres didn’t get herself when she took the “Which Queen of Comedy are You” quiz or that countless other celebrities haven’t gotten themselves when taking similar quizzes. We still love taking quizzes and will share our results with pride.





So why do we get so mesmerized by quizzes? I think part of it is the fact that we feel as if the quiz knows something about us based on the questions, and quiz writers are amazing at using psychology to make quiz copy apply to just about everyone.

Another part of the equation is the fact that quiz results are nearly all positive, and it’s much easier to accept a positive analysis of yourself than a negative one. If I were to meet you on a subway and hear about your life, then deduce that you are destined for success, you’d probably believe me, but if I were to meet you in the same scenario and decide that you were going to fail, you wouldn’t be so quick to jump on board with my analysis.

So we as people like to get personalized, practical advice, but we also like to hear how awesome we are. Quizzes have hit the sweet spot where they are able to accomplish both of these things. Not only are we getting advice that applies to use personally, but quiz results are rigged to always tell us we are great.

To get on board and take advantage of the seamlessly endless flood of traffic flowing through quizzes these days, there are a few things you’ve got to get right to provide personalized, actionable advice that pumps people up, but is also believable.

  1. Talk to the audience: Just like it’s disappointing to click on article and then find out it has nothing to do with you, clicking on a quiz that doesn’t encompass your interests is a negative experience. You’ve got to know your audience well enough to encapsulate them with your topic. The nice thing about a quiz is that by having multiple results you can address more people, but you have to start with a targeted demographic.
  2. Convince People: There are several keys to writing persuasively that you can weave into your quiz questions and results to psychologically make your quiz more believable. The main ones are repetition, comparisons, and stories, but you can view the full list herelamborghini
  3. Try to be real: Yes, it’s not super important to have your quiz be accurate, but do your best to get real. Research your quiz using Google Scholar or similar sources to be an expert on what you’re talking about. No one likes a lazy person who’s not willing to put in the work and make a semi-accurate quiz.

Practical and personal, the reason why quizzes have blown up. Creating a quiz that doles out advice is a formula for a killer piece of content that’s highly shareable. Try it out by creating a quiz at Interact for free.


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Josh Haynam

Josh Haynam is the co-founder of Interact, a place for creating beautiful and engaging quizzes that generate email leads. Outside of Interact Josh is an outdoor enthusiast, is very into health/fitness, and enjoys spending time with his community in San Francisco.

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