Why do odd numbers make people click on your story?

Andrew Watt, MA
Aug 3, 2016 · 2 min read

The debate on the local press’ seeming obsession with listicles has reared its head again since former Local World / Trinity Mirror award winning journalist Gareth Davies gave his analysis on the declining quality of the local newspaper he had worked on over many years.

An example of listicle content from the Croydon Advertiser.

But have you ever wondered why editorial teams are producing seemingly never ending listicles, especially those with an odd number?

Well, odd numbers are one of three elements which psychologists and web content studies have shown can entice a website visitor to click on a headline and visit an article.

One such study can be found in George Loewenstein’s The Psychology of Curiosity: A Review and Reinterpretation (1994), which concludes that humans are attracted to content which promises a short list of tips or insights on a subect the reader wishes to know more about or one which piques their interest.

Additionally, a meta analysis of over 300 articles about online learning, conduced by instruction specialist Abreena Tompkins, concluded that grouping information in parcels of three or five enables readers to absorb information better.

Her research also showed how humans struggle to process more than 9 items in a row and that simply breaking up larger chunks of information into odd-numbered batches, helped the brain process the information.

Example: 9 reasons to love Out of Africa at 30

Just as odd numbers encourage clicks, even numbered lists can have the opposite effect as readers will assume that something has been added or omitted to keep the list to a round number of points.

To see a humorous take on the odd numbered listicle, you can check out another former Local World / Trinity Mirror employee, Paul Winspear’s odd-numbered listicle about his departure from the company.

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