The Psychology Of Memes

It’s fascinating how over the past few years, memes have rapidly spread over the world through social media sites. It’s funny when two friends sitting together, rapidly sending and receiving messages on their phone may seem desperately anti-social, when in fact they are happily engaged in communicating through the exchange of funny internet memes.

What are memes?

A meme is an image or a short video (GIF) that contains short humorous text and is widely circulated among internet users. But every new word, every hashtag, website, or packet of information is also a meme. There are literally as many memes as you could imagine creating, but some will live/thrive/spread/morph and others will die on the virtual vine. The word meme was coined by philosopher of science Richard Dawkins. In his 1976 book The Selfish Gene he mused about how ideas influence human evolution.

A deeper understanding of memes

Memes have granted internet users a shorthand way of communicating. They help transmit pop-culture and political ideology often through sarcastic humor. Considering the hyper-popularity researchers have noted a psychological facet to meme appeal. For example, it was found that online content which provokes strong affective responses was more likely to be shared. Therefore, it may be argued that there are much deeper psychosocial mechanisms underpinning our relationship with this seemingly benign media form.

look good

How do memes spread?

Because memes are so malleable and intangible, they are difficult to study. Still, research has attempted to draw some general conclusions about why particular memes go viral. Studies suggest that neither the quality of its content, nor its proximity to the truth, has much of an impact on a meme’s popularity. A meme that produces high-arousal emotion, whether negative or positive, tends to be shared at a greater frequency.
The Internet has proven to be a platform where memes spread like wildfire. This is because information becomes more believable when:

Accompanied by an image
Seen repeatedly
Does not provoke critical thinking

All three factors come into play when coming across new memes on social media. The source of a meme’s power may be the emotions tied to it. People are more likely to share videos, research suggests, when they evoke a strong emotional reaction such as being hilarious, angering, or disgusting. Being closer to the person who shared the content may also play a role in the likelihood that you spread it.

Child funny gif

Mediums of spreading memes

In the olden days, memes would spread mainly through email and or websites that ‘held’ the memes. But as social media became the next wave of the Internet we can see sites like Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit, Instagram, etc. as perfect mediums for the spread of memes. In fact, they spread like a virus, with individuals passing them onwards to their groups/contacts/circles/followers, etc.

adding salt

Memes are a form of communication. They are packets of information that spread throughout the Internet – with meaning to the person who has the ‘code’ to that meme. No code, for instance, then it is just an image with text. With the code, the meaning comes to life – you ‘get it’. This is what the psychology of memes is all about, knowing the codes, knowing how and why memes spread. What do you think of memes? Feel free to comment.

Seemal Khan

Fashion textiles and design student who loves creating anything and everything! Can be occasionally addicted to Netflix.

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