I’m not complaining about lists. I like a list as much as the next guy, but I was curious from where our fascination stems. Turns out, we’re just lazy. From a psychological perspective, lists “tap into our preferred way of receiving and organizing information at a sub-conscious level” and they consciously “hit our attentional sweet spot.”
This is because lists have some pretty eye-catching elements:
- Snappy headlines tantalize us with promises of how we can quickly benefit from some simple yet mind-blowing thing that will make us appear to be super amazing. Example: 5 sexy moves that will have him coming back for more!
- Accessible top 10 formats neatly organize the content allowing us to gather the important information immediately and ignore what no longer matters. Example: Top 10 most expensive sandwiches – you only read the most expensive item because who can remember all ten, and a “Douche burger” at $666 is a compelling enough story.
- Bolded highlights allow us to take in the concept of the list item without having to read the whole text. In our heads it sounds like self-satisfied machine gun fire as we read: “Ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, I know that already.” Example: The current list you are reading.
We are that lazy
Yet our wee brains crave new data and our wee egos need to believe that we can do anything if we just had the time. That’s why we gravitate towards perfectly bite-sized and accessible lists. Of course we can learn how to samba in 10 minutes or less. Of course we can learn how to speak a new language or make croissants or be a sensational lover or an astronaut or a spy – we just need the right information.
We just don’t want to do the work it takes to gather the information ourselves, so we rely on whatever pre-assembled list comes up in the first one or two pages of our Google search. We kind of sheep our way through it. We want it easy and we want it now so that we can quickly impress our friends with our new knowledge. And not meaningful knowledge, like about WWll or the degradation of our public school systems, but rather information that inspires the “oh my god” or “shut the fuck up” reactions we also crave. Amuse-douche instant gratification strikes again.
Brief History of the To-Do List and the Psychology of Its Success: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/02/09/willpower-to-do-list/
A List of Reasons our Brains Love Lists: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/elements/2013/12/a-list-of-reasons-that-our-brains-love-lists.html
To 10 most expensive sandwiches article: http://www.pouted.com/10-most-expensive-sandwiches-in-the-world/
How to lose weight three easy ways article: http://www.ehow.com/how_4518985_lose-weight-three-easy-ways.html
List of lists from Lifehack: http://www.lifehack.org/?utm_source=Lifehack&utm_campaign=5f312d0143-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_983e966a3e-5f312d0143-414813553