Why Brains and Blogs Love Lists

Ten Blank business diagram bullet liet illustration“There’s little that our brains crave more than effortlessly acquired data,” Maria Konnikova remarks ruefully in the New Yorker magazine, by way of explaining the reasons people love lists. Lists spatially organize information, helping create an easy reading experience, Konnikova explains, “in which the mental heavy lifting of conceptualization, categorization, and analysis is completed well in advance of actual consumption.” The point of using numbered lists, I explain to blog content writers, is to demonstrate ways in which your product or service is different, and to provide valuable information that engages readers, helping them see you as a go-to guy or gal to solve their problem or fill their need. There’s apparently psychological science behind the fact that the numbered list technique has been a staple for s magazine covers for as long as I can remember. I always sensed lists and bullet points in general would make a good fit for blogs, and by most accounts, search engines “like” them as well. Jay Sondemers of Forbes defines high quality content as being:

  • easy to read
  • suitable for scanning and skimming

As far back as 1968, neuroscientist Walter Kintsch pointed out that lists facilitate both immediate understanding and later recall. Then in 2011, psychologists Messner and Wanke concluded that we feel better when the amount of conscious work we have to do in order to process information is reduced. “Within the context of a Web page or Facebook stream,” Konnikova says, a list is the easy pick, in part because it promises a definite ending. Back in 2013, I devoted a Say It For You blog post to the topic of numbered lists, noting seven different men’s magazine covers sporting list-based titles, including “50 Great Escapes” and “6 Longest New Drivers”. Just the other day, a single news stand at my local CVS pharmacy carried four magazines with numbers-based headline teasers: (Indianapolis Diner)       13 Gourmet meals (Mountain Escapes)       62 Glorious Getaway Ideas (Entertainment )             50 Song Movies, & TV Shows Guaranteed to Bring You Joy (Time)                           240 Reasons to Celebrate America “In the current media environment, a list is perfectly designed for our brains,” concludes Konnikova.  “We are drawn to it intuitively, we process it more efficiently, and we retain it with little effort.” And that’s just fine, she concludes, with the caveat that such a fast-food information diet is necessarily limited in content and nuance. Limitations notwithstanding – brains and blogs love lists!

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