3 Reasons Quizzes Are Psychologically Irresistible To Your Audience

Human beings need to organize things; we’re psychologically hardwired to do so. In our never-ending pursuit of taxonomy, we often turn to tools that help us make sense of an otherwise random and chaotic world. When it comes to digital content, our psychological need for order is most fully satisfied through quizzes. 

The quiz’s ability to group people by identity, knowledge, and common interests make them irresistible to the human psyche. Digital news publishers can drive meaningful audience engagement through the powerful psychological motivations of a quiz.

Quizzes are a tool for self-discovery. 

From the moment a human being realizes they’re a unique person, with distinct emotions and motivations, we set out on a lifelong journey of self-discovery. “[Quizzes are] fun, but I think it also does touch something about our own sense of our unfolding story,” says Dr. Robert Simmermon, a psychologist who specializes in media psychology. “I think it really goes to a sense of narrative psychology.” 

The theory of narrative psychology is that humans make sense of their lives by organizing events into stories that fit together over time, creating our own “biographies” to explain who we are and where we come from. “It goes into our own ongoing developing narrative and it gives some credence of ourselves as heroes of our own story,” he told The Huffington Post

Maslow's hierarchy of needs can help publishers understand what motivates their audience. 

Maslow's hierarchy of needs can help publishers understand what motivates their audience. 

Quizzes appeal to our natural need for self-determination. Sure, we might take an online quiz because it’s fun, but we’re also attempting to answer three major questions: Who am I? Who do others think I am? And, who do I want to be? 

Traditionally, marketers attempted to answer those questions for the consumer. But people seem to have an unconscious aversion to being persuaded. One reason quizzes are so psychologically appealing is that they allow us to draw our own conclusions. 


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Consider the NewsUp quiz “How Sustainable Is Your Life?” a knowledge-based quiz we published on behalf of the National Aquarium.  The Aquarium’s challenge was to convert awareness of environmental issues into action. NewsUp’s challenge was to translate dry, complicated information into a compelling content experience. The result was a quiz that was as useful as it was fun to play. Audiences want help making decisions, so we created a quiz that served as a guide, helping them to learn about themselves and improve their lives.

Quizzes satisfy our basic emotional needs.

Audience engagement largely depends on the activation of two emotions: joy and surprise. Today’s consumers must be hooked in the opening seconds of a content experience, and quizzes have the ability to create joy or surprise immediately. 

Content creators are no longer in charge of what people see. If you want to get people’s attention, contribute something worthy of consumers’ time and emotional investment. The good news is that there is ample opportunity for those publishers to engage their audiences by touching their hearts and contributing tangibly to their world. 

Publishers should look towards Robert Plutchik’s comprehensive Wheel of Emotion to create emotionally compelling content. For example, emotions that fit into the surprise and anticipation segments of Plutchik’s wheel are common across most forms of viral content. Notably, quizzes inherently activate these emotions in audiences, specifically curiosity, amazement, interest, and astonishment.

Use Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions to create emotionally compelling quiz content. 

Use Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions to create emotionally compelling quiz content. 

Quizzes make us feel like we belong.

Quizzes require an emotional investment from the player which is why they successfully drive deep engagement. But publishers can also leverage these emotions to drive a network effect. 

Emotional arousal activates our nervous system, getting us all fired up. When we feel happy or sad, astonished or angry, sharing the source of that emotional trigger can provide a kind of closure that releases us from this state -- this is why quizzes are primed to go viral. 

To this point, human beings are hardwired to share information about themselves. Simply put, we love to talk about ourselves. In fact, we love it so much that Harvard neuroscientists say we can’t help but share our thoughts—it triggers the same sensation of pleasure in our brains as food and money do. People share content because they are looking to increase their social status. When someone shares their results on a quiz, they display their own taste, media savvy, and connectedness to a larger world. 

Speaking of connectedness, social feedback contributes to a sense of “belonging.” 

“Personality quizzes...are conversation starters, and give you a shared language to discuss things that are meaningful for you,” explained Christine Whelan, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin. People who take a quiz are eager to let their friends know their result, and people responded to them by chiming in with their own results. 

Human beings crave feedback because it helps them define themselves and relate to others. Quizzes provide instantaneous feedback which players can immediately act on to improve their lives in a meaningful way. Therefore, quizzes are ideal for digital news publishers who need their audience to have an emotional relationship to their stories.