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What Makes Content Engaging? How Emotional Dynamics Shape Success

Jonah Berger, Yoon Duk Kim, Robert Meyer, J. Jeffrey Inman and Andrew T Stephen

Journal of Consumer Research, 2021, vol. 48, issue 2, 235-250

Abstract: Some cultural products (e.g., books and movies) catch on and become popular, while others fail. Why? While some have argued that success is unpredictable, we suggest that period-to-period shifts in sentiment—what we term sentiment volatility—enhance engagement. Automated sentiment analysis of over 4,000 movies demonstrates that more volatile movies are evaluated more positively. Consistent with the notion that sentiment volatility makes experiences more stimulating, the effect is stronger in genres where evaluations are more likely to be driven stimulation (i.e., thrillers rather than romance). Further, analysis of over 30,000 online articles demonstrate that people are more likely to continue reading more volatile articles. By manipulating sentiment volatility in follow-up experiments, we underscore its causal impact on evaluations, and provide evidence for the role of stimulation in these effects. Taken together, the results shed light on what drives engagement, the time dynamics of sentiment, and cultural analytics or why some cultural items are more successful.

Keywords: narratives; natural language processing; experiences; movies; automated textual analysis (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2021
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