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Understanding the Psychology Behind Online Quizzes

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Even in the days of dial-up, quizzes have been a fixture on the internet. I remember spending a lot of time on pre-BuzzFeed websites that had pages and pages of quizzes on everything ranging from “Name Every United States President” to “Which Character from Mean Girls Are You?” There’s something almost addictive about testing your knowledge or discovering more about who you are.

Our collective fascination with online quizzes hasn’t waned. In fact, it seems that as we become increasingly dependent on the internet, quizzes will continue to grow more ubiquitous in our digital lives. But why are we compelled to take quizzes, and how can marketers use quizzes to communicate with their audiences?

Read on to explore the psychology behind online quizzes, as well as the ways in which marketers use them to reach consumers.

Quizzes Give Insight into Our Life Story

Understanding the Psychology Behind Online Quizzes: Life Story

We are drawn to online quizzes for the same reasons some people shell out $20 for a tarot reading at the county fair: All of us have an insatiable need to get a deeper understanding of who we are and why. Sometimes, simple introspection isn’t enough, and no matter how enthusiastic we are about digging into the dark, earthy depths of our souls, we can never make it past the top soil without a better shovel. For many of us, quizzes—particularly personality quizzes—are a dependable shovel that help us push past the surface layers and discover who we are at our core. And, while not exactly like getting a full tarot reading, online quizzes tap into the human desire to understand our life story and get a sense of how it’ll play out.

One reason many people are drawn to taking quiz after quiz is because quizzes help flesh out their life stories. Narrative psychology theorizes that in order to iron out the creases in their lives, people organize events into tidy stories which develop into biographies. As psychologist Robert Simmermon explains to The Huffington Post, this theory “goes into our own ongoing developing narrative and it gives some credence of ourselves as heroes of our own story.” The biographies we create for ourselves are unique to each individual, which further explains why we love the personableness of quizzes. Unlike other types of content, online quizzes give people the freedom to express themselves, to make their own choices. In doing so, they have a hand in controlling how their story unfolds and the overall shape their biography will eventually take.

Professor of psychology Steven Myers goes into further detail about the value quizzes have in helping humans explore their inner selves. He says that “you could introspect and think about yourself, however that has its limits… when we take these self-assessments, they give us another mirror inward.” MIT psychologist and cultural analyst Sherry Turkle has a similar theory, explaining to Wired: “People want a read on the self, an order to it. They’ll use a [body] sensor to get the number; they’ll use a quiz to get the number. It gives people something to look at, an object to think with. I think these quizzes are a kind of focus for attention for thinking about yourself.”

As previously mentioned, quizzes are a way for people to dig deeper into themselves, for them to see different aspects of their personalities they might otherwise overlook. By serving as a tool for us to get greater insight into our true nature, quizzes help people further develop their narratives and reach a better understanding of themselves.

We Find Comfort in Being a Type

Despite our best efforts to be seen as individuals, humans have a tendency to find ways to categorize themselves and those around them. Some of us relate best to the brain while others prefer being the princess. While it’s likely each one of us possesses all the characteristics of every member of the Breakfast Club, humans really like to make sense of the world and their personalities by placing themselves into boxes.

Another good example of this behavior is our fixation with astrology signs. I must admit there are times I find myself taking comfort in believing my difficulty in making decisions is because I’m a Libra, or that my creativity stems from the time of year I was born. What quizzes and the zodiac tap into is this reassurance that our personalities aren’t random flukes and that there are other people with similar characteristics. We aren’t alone—we belong.

BuzzFeed Raverin - Understanding the Psychology Behind Online Quizzes Source: BuzzFeed

Simmermon explains to The Huffington Post that people love taking quizzes because they provide an “illusion of authenticity.” It can be argued quizzes help us feel more confident or justified in our characteristics. He goes on to say that an online quiz “reinforces a sense of ourself, whether it has any legitimacy or not.” One of BuzzFeed’s most recent Harry Potter-inspired quizzes tells users which two Hogwarts houses they belong in based on a seemingly random list of questions. As a huge Harry Potter fan, I already had a suspicion as to which houses I’d belong to. The quiz confirmed my belief (Ravenclaw and Slytherin) and had me nodding along with the characteristics they listed in the description: I love learning, try to avoid confrontation when I can, and often weigh both sides of an argument before engaging. After getting my quiz results, I felt that reinforcement of who I am like Simmermon discussed, as well as a relief in knowing I belong where I thought I did.

How Marketers Use Quizzes

According to Kissmetrics, quizzes are the “most engaging type of content on Facebook.” Kissmetrics looked at the top million shared posts on Facebook over a 6-month time frame and organized these posts by type (quizzes, lists, videos, infographics, etc.). They concluded that quizzes were number one, with an average of 51,968 likes and shares. Quizzes are important to content marketing because they’re enthusiastically shared across social media. Sharing quiz results with friends is part of the reason many people take them. It’s fun to compare the results. This sharing can get a brand’s quiz in front of a wider audience with relatively little effort.

Another benefit of quizzes that isn’t typically found in other content types is an access to a wealth of user data. Though content giants like BuzzFeed and Zimbio say they don’t collect data from quizzes, other quiz creators like VisualDNA gather data such as demographics and personal interests. This information can help marketers focus their efforts on specific consumers that are more likely to be interested in their products or services rather than blindly casting a wide net.

As mentioned above, quizzes are more engaging than more traditional content. They let the user choose how they want to interact with the copy and let them explore the piece in ways a standard blog post or PDF don’t. A more hands-on experience resonates with users, ensuring your content stays with them long after they jump to something else.

The Bottom Line

There’s a reason quizzes have been part of the internet since its early days. We love learning more about ourselves and finding new ways to understand our who we are. We also love sharing this information with others. An often underrated content type, quizzes can help marketers create more unique content that is seen and discovered by a wide range of people. They can also give you more insight into your audience. Give quizzes a chance and implement one into your content marketing strategy!

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