Speeches made on the Senate floor are usually only watched by the most hardcore CSPAN viewers. But after U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced while reading a letter from Coretta Scott King during Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing, her follow-up reading of the letter on Facebook Live was viewed more than 12 million times. It turns out there’s a psychology behind the desire to watch something you’ve been specifically told not to. The science-centric YouTube Channel AsapSCIENCE breaks down that phenomenon in a video cheekily called “You Aren’t Supposed To Watch This.”
The video starts by asking viewers not to think of a white bear, which immediately prompts most people to think of exactly that. The sense that people are losing their freedom motivates them to seek out the thing they’ve been denied, even if they didn’t particularly want it in the first place. In psychology that’s known as reactance, and it affects everything from people seeking out banned books to underaged kids bingeing on alcohol more than people who are of age.
The AsapSCIENCE video also ties these psychological phenomena into the ways in which clickbait operates. By giving readers some but not all of the information involved in a story, these clickbait titles take advantage of the information gap theory: Readers immediately have a desire to fill in the blanks, and they feel more satisfied once they do, which causes them to be suckered into more clickbait in the future. In addition to all that, the video also digs into genetic traits, emotional arousal, and the effect of the “viewer discretion is advised” warning label. Watch it or don’t—the choice is up to you.