John Tierney describes a review of articles that people emailed to others from the NY Times home page over the course of the last 6 months:
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have intensively studied the New York Times list of most-e-mailed articles, checking it every 15 minutes for more than six months, analyzing the content of thousands of articles and controlling for factors like the placement in the paper or on the Web home page.
Perhaps most of all, readers wanted to share articles that inspired awe, an emotion that the researchers investigated after noticing how many science articles made the list. In general, they found, 20 percent of articles that appeared on the Times home page made the list, but the rate rose to 30 percent for science articles, including ones with headlines like “The Promise and Power of RNA.”
Of course there are implications for education: If students have an emotional response to what they're asked to learn, they'll be more likely to share their learning with others -- and in the process summarize it, analyze it, (re)produce the information that they've learned, touching some of the milestones along the path to mastery.
The possibilities can be found across the curriculum--literature is designed to tug at your core, and historic events, the creation of Borobudur or the emergence of women's suffrage, and certainly discoveries in math that fuel our drive to understand the cosmos have emotional potential--but the researchers finding that science articles are more likely to be shared signals that educators are failing to use a powerful tool:
“Emotion in general leads to transmission, and awe is quite a strong emotion,” he said. “If I’ve just read this story that changes the way I understand the world and myself, I want to talk to others about what it means. I want to proselytize and share the feeling of awe. If you read the article and feel the same emotion, it will bring us closer together.”
But where's the curriculum that seeks to inspire awe? And what are the consequences of curriculum that doesn't attempt to get students even a little excited about what they're learning?
(Is there a topic more potent than natural selection, if you seek out and present speciated adaptations to available niches? Warm, fuzzy salamanders migrating perilously along ancient vernal waterways, now paved. Or obsessive squirrels able to remember 30,000 or more places where they've stored acorns? [I'm not kidding about that last one. Squirrels might not have much reasoning power, but apparently their memories for spatial referents are unsurpassed.)