Shocking secret you won’t believe! Emotional arousal in clickbait headlines
Purpose Clickbait has become a popular strategy for attracting online users by enticing them to follow the link to a particular website to read further. The purpose of this paper is to fill a gap in the literature by providing empirical evidence of how clickbait headlines affect online users’ emotional and behavioral responses, specifically emotional arousal and intention to read news. In addition, it is an early attempt to examine pupillary dilation response as an indicator of emotional arousal in the online news context. Design/methodology/approach An experiment was conducted primarily to examine the levels of emotional arousal evoked by two treatment groups of online news headlines, news and clickbait, compared to a neutral control group. Emotional arousal was assessed using two approaches – pupillary dilation response recorded by an eye-tracking device and the Self-Assessment Manikin (SAM) – and the results were compared. The influence of emotional arousal on intention to read news was hypothesized and tested. Findings The level of emotional arousal evoked by the headlines varies. In general, clickbait headlines generate a higher level of emotional arousal than do the neutral headlines but a lower level than the news headlines. The results also indicate that the level of emotional arousal measured by pupillary dilation response and by SAM are somewhat consistent. Emotional arousal appears to be a significant predictor of intention to read news. Originality/value This study is an initial attempt to investigate how clickbait headlines influence online users’ perceptions and responses, which will be of interest to researchers and news media publishers. The current study also provides evidence for adopting pupillary dilation response, an unobtrusive measure of emotional response, as an alternative methodology for future studies that investigate emotional arousal related to textual information in the online news context.