NY Times Study: The Psychology of Sharing, Why do People Share Online

This NY Times study “The Psychology of Sharing, Why do People Share Online,” was published in 2011.  It was online through 2016.

Websites and blogs still cite this publication as a reference for why people share online.  Broken are hundreds of links to the report.  The report’s website was taken down in 2016.  Hence it created an undesirable impact on the SEO and credibility of the websites that link to the page.

We set up this page as a backstop until there is a new study on “Why people share online.”

Therefore, feel free to link to the page as a reference.

The Psychology of Sharing, Why do People Share Online

You can also link to the original PDF below.

NY Times Study: the Psychology of sharing, why people share online.

This study was used as a reference in our article: Learn how to go viral on Facebook by posting shareable content.  We hope it helps you with your social media marketing.

Publications, Academic Research, and Studies on Why Do People Share Online,  Sharing on Social Media and Social Networking Behavior

1) Everyone is too distracted to stop sharing fake news, study shows

Published on PBS

Nsikan Akpan the digital science producer at PBS did a great job reporting on the nature magazine publication on why people cannot stop sharing the fake news.  The study found that when news feeds are overflowing, people have a difficult time discriminating between fact-based stories and fake news on social media. The problem stems from how social media platforms work, and may also explain the popularity bias in modern journalism.

This news story is based on the Nature human behavior study and publication – Limited individual attention and online virality of low-quality information, PUBLISHED: 26 JUNE 2017 | VOLUME: 1 | ARTICLE NUMBER: 0132

About the Authors: Xiaoyan Qiu, Diego F. M. Oliveira, Alireza Sahami Shirazi, Alessandro Flammini and  Filippo Menczer


2) Why Is Facebook So Successful? Psychophysiological Measures Describe a Core Flow State While Using Facebook

Published On December 2011 in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking Vol. 14, No. 12

The study explores whether the use of Social Networking Sites (SNSs) elicits a specific psychophysiological pattern.  It also records specific positive and negative effects using SNS has on individuals.  What aspects of the social networking experience make SNSs so successful?  Hence, the increasing use of SNSs shows that people use SNS because they have a positive experience when they use them.

About the Authors:

Maurizio Mauri – Institute of Human, Language and Environmental Sciences, IULM University, Milan, Italy.  Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Pietro Cipresso – Institute of Human, Language and Environmental Sciences, IULM University, Milan, Italy.  Applied Technology for Neuro-Psychology Lab, Istituto Auxologico Italiano–IRCCS, Milano, Italy.

Anna Balgera – Institute of Human, Language and Environmental Sciences, IULM University, Milan, Italy.

Marco Villamira -Institute of Human, Language and Environmental Sciences, IULM University, Milan, Italy.

Giuseppe Riva – Applied Technology for Neuro-Psychology Lab, Istituto Auxologico Italiano–IRCCS, Milano, Italy.  Dipartimento di Psicologia, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milano, Italy.


3) The Importance of Sharing Experiences – Two new studies suggest that extraordinary adventures are overrated—unless you have them with someone else.

Published in the Atlantic in October 2014, is about two recent studies in Psychological Science.   The results suggest: 1) that unusual experiences can have a social cost, in that they alienate us from our peers who did not share those experiences with us. 2) Sharing experiences—even with a complete stranger—makes people rate those experiences as more intense than people who underwent them alone.

About the Author: Olga Khazan is a staff writer at The Atlantic.


4) Beautiful friendship: Social sharing of emotions improves subjective feelings and activates the neural reward circuitry

Published in October 2014 in the Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Volume 10, Issue 6, 1 June 2015, Pages 801

While not about online sharing, this publication provides insight into the basic human motivation to share and affiliate with others in emotional situations.  Researchers in Germany evaluated the effect of social sharing of emotions on subjective feelings and neural activity by having pairs of friends view emotional movies at a cinema either alone or with the friend.   As a result, the study showed that people appreciate the company of others because their mere knowledge of the presence of a peer who shares the same emotional experience is subjectively rewarding.

About the Authors: Ullrich Wagner, Lisa Galli, Bjorn H. Schott, Andrew Wold, Job van der Schalk, Antony S. R. Manstead, Klaus Scherer, Henrik Walter

Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Division of Mind and Brain Research, 10117 Berlin, Germany, University of Münster, Department of Psychology, 48049 Münster, Germany, Berlin School of Mind and Brain, 10117 Berlin, Germany, Cardiff University, School of Psychology, Cardiff CF10 3AT, UK, and Swiss Center for Affective Sciences, 1202 Geneva, Switzerland


5) New, More Rigorous Study Confirms: The More You Use Facebook, the Worse You Feel – Holly B. Shakya,  Nicholas A. Christakis, April 10, 2017

Published in the Harvard Business Review and covers the impact that Facebook can have on our self-esteem.

Written in 2017, the study and research show that the use of Facebook and social media may; detract from face-to-face relationships, reduce investment in meaningful activities, increase sedentary behavior by encouraging more screen time, lead to internet addiction, and erode self-esteem through unfavorable social comparison.  Furthermore, the sheer quantity of social media interaction may detract from more meaningful real-life experiences.   Consequently, the exposure to images and content from others’ lives leads to negative self-comparison.

About the Authors: Holly B. Shakya is an Assistant Professor of Global Public Health at UC San Diego.  Nicholas A. Christakis is the Director of the Human Nature Lab at Yale University and Co-Director of the Yale Institute for Network Science.


6) Online Social Networking and Addiction—A Review of the Psychological Literature – Daria J. Kuss and Mark D. Griffiths

This review was published in the  International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health and covers ‘addiction’ to social networks on the Internet and the potential mental health problems it can create.

Published in August 2011, this study covers the ‘addiction’ to social networks on the Internet and potential mental health problem for some users.  The focus of the publication includes a study of six areas of human behavior on Social Networking Sites (SNSs).   Areas of interest include: (1) outlining SNS usage patterns, (2) examining motivations for SNS usage, (3) examining personalities of SNS users, (4) examining negative consequences of SNS usage, (5) exploring potential SNS addiction, and (6) exploring SNS addiction specificity and comorbidity.

About the Authors: Daria J. Kuss  and Mark D. Griffiths are from the International Gaming Research Unit, Psychology Division, Nottingham Trent University, NG1 4BU, UK

Citation: Kuss DJ, Griffiths MD. Online Social Networking and Addiction—A Review of the Psychological Literature. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2011

Motivations for sharing

Finally, here is our own comprehensive list of why people share online.

Note that you may see some overlap and redundancy in this list.

Positive / selfless reasons why people share online

People share online to…

  • help someone
  • support a friend
  • make others feel better
  • stay in touch
  • show appreciation
  • show remorse
  • collaborate
  • make plans
  • connect with others
  • educate
  • make someone happy
  • entertain others
  • stay engaged
  • get more involved
  • give back
  • make others look good
  • inform others
  • show enthusiasm
  • promote a cause
  • be part of a community
  • participate
  • share ideas
  • build trust
  • make a statement
  • show the world who we are
  • let people know what we stand for
  • improve moods

Negative / selfish reasons why people share online

People share online to…

  • show dissatisfaction
  • go viral
  • get comments
  • get likes and emojis
  • make money
  • get others to like you
  • prove a point
  • force compliance
  • be seen as an expert
  • threaten
  • terrorize
  • bully
  • be funny
  • put people down
  • feel important
  • rant
  • lecture
  • be provocative
  • self-promote
  • be admired by others
  • grow a following
  • gain power
  • influence others
  • deceive
  • look good
  • be seen as cool
  • show how smart we are
  • spread lies
  • misinform
  • distract attention
  • deny wrongdoing
  • spread propaganda

Do you have more reasons why people share online?  Please use the form below to add them to our “why do people share online” list?   If you have an article or new study on the topic please use this form to share it and we will consider adding it to our list of relevant publications.