Is this headline manipulating you?

Shhhh just click.
Shhhh just click.
Image: AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa
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Why do viral content sites keep asking you questions and telling you how their videos are going to make you feel? Because those are the links people will click, obviously. A new study confirms this shocking correlation, Forbes reports.

Seriously, though: Researchers at BI Norwegian Business School found that tweeted headlines containing questions got an average of 150% more clicks than ones that were just statements. And when researchers included self-referencing words (“you,” for example), the increase rose to 175%.

The authors of the study tested the efficacy of these headlines in two ways. In the first study, they tweeted articles using three different headlines—a straightforward declarative statement, a question, and a self-referential question. Think “Power corrupts,” “Does power corrupt?” and “Is your boss intoxicated by power?”

The second study tested four products for sale on a Norwegian e-commerce site, and found that self-referential questions (“Is this your new iPhone 4?”) could actually increase clicks by as much as 300%. Even when they averaged the four items—for some reason, people don’t like being link-baited when they’re shopping for washing machines—the net effect was a mean boost of 257%.

At Upworthy, writers come up with 25 distinct headlines for each story filed. “Everybody’s trying to somehow cover the broccoli with chocolate sauce and make it go down easier,” founder Eli Pariser told Nieman Journalism Lab in the early days of his viral content creating website, “and you end up with something that tastes horrible.” But you can treat your readers like adults, he says, and still give them something sweet to get them reading in the first place.

Correction (5:45pm ET): A previous version of this story began by asking why Upworthy frames so many of its headlines as questions, but the site doesn’t do that.