The Frontal Cortex

The Psychology of Blogging

n+1 nails an important psychological aspect of blogs:

Imagine a grandfather clock that strikes at random intervals. You can’t tell time by it and yet you begin to live in constant anticipation of the next random chime.

Pavlov was there first. He realized that there was something especially alluring about random reinforcements. When the reward was unpredictable, it was extra rewarding. Blogs take advantage of this mental principle. (So do slot machines.) After all, the updating of blogs is inherently idiosyncratic. Bloggers don’t have deadlines.

I’m acutely aware of this whenever I visit The Superficial, a celebrity gossip site that is one of my guilty blogging pleasures. (Sorry, Al Gore. Assaulting reason can be fun.) Because I never know when the site will be updated (What is Lindsey Lohan up to now? What about now?) I’m perpetually checking the website, hoping for some random blogging reinforcement. I feel like a rat pressing a lever, waiting for his morsel of food.

Comments

  1. #1 RyanG
    June 19, 2007

    Have you considered RSS? You still compulsively click for updates, but you’re much more likely to get them because you can check dozens of sites at once.

  2. #2 Richard
    June 20, 2007

    I also love the superficial. But shhh! don’t tell anybody

  3. #3 spliff
    June 21, 2007

    Pavlov was there first. He realized that there was something especially alluring about random reinforcements. When the reward was unpredictable, it was extra rewarding.

    I’ve never heard of such a result by Pavlov, but I’m no Pavlov scholar. I find it surprising. I’d be interested in any further info, references or links.

  4. #4 Lizzie
    June 21, 2007

    If The Superficial isn’t keeping up with your celebrity gossip needs, I recommend What Would Tyler Durden Do? and Pink Is the New Blog. Enjoy!

  5. #5 tekel
    June 21, 2007

    Yeah dude, RSS. If you’re clicking reload compulsively, you’re living in 2004.

  6. #6 Jonah
    June 21, 2007

    I’ve never enjoyed RSS. I like “rewarding” myself with little “breaks” in which I aimlessly peruse the blogosphere. RSS makes this process a little too efficient. Perhaps, deep down, I like clicking compulsively.

  7. #7 spliff
    June 22, 2007

    I guess my earlier question qualified as spam.

    I’m sure that the reason couldn’t be that you were wrong and wanted to hide that fact. I posed the question in good faith and in the spirit of open discussion. I was perfectly willing to revise my impression of Pavlov’s results if evidence showed it was wrong.

    If I have somehow misjudged the situation, I would gladly admit my error, but I somehow suspect that this comment will end up in the bit bucket like my previous one.

    But you know and so do I.

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