Study finds clickbait is rampant in academia

clickbaitThe academic world is (very) gradually moving away from the citation being king towards a more rounded perspective on the impact a paper has on the world.  One factor of this is the impact a paper has on the social web, with things like shares and likes taken into account.

So a recent paper provides a fascinating finding.  Whilst it’s common for media outlets to use clickbait headlines to generate click throughs, the paper finds that the same can apply in the academic world too.

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The study involved over 2,000 titles published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology over a two year period.  They found that the articles that attracted the most clicks tended to involve positive and interesting framing.

Suffice to say, academic articles aren’t going quite as far as your typical Buzzfeed headline, but they are nonetheless taking some lessons from the media industry.  Previous studies have shown that social media shares tend to increase if the headline is both positive and emotionally arousing.

By scouring the Altmetric Attention Scores for each article the researchers were capable of cross referencing the number of shares and mentions with the type of headline the paper uses.

Just as with media articles, it emerged that papers whose headlines used positive framing and phrasing arousal tended to score better in terms of sharing online.  So they’d use titles such as ‘smoking causes cancer’ rather than ‘the link between smoking and cancer’.

The authors believe this provides a clear indication that clickbait style tactics are just as effective with scientific papers as they are with other forms of content.  What isn’t so clear is whether the title of the article has any impact on the citations that article receives, which is still the main currency for any piece.

Nevertheless, it does provide some food for thought, especially as most universities now are striving to prove the social impact of their work.

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