What Makes an Image Go Viral? Could be as Simple as Colour 

By Sarah Zhang on at

Never before in human history has it been so easy to share, like, pin, reblog, images. That's, like, totally awesome for teenage girls showing off their prom dresses but also a pretty huge boon for scientists studying what makes images shareable. And it could be something as simple as colour.

A paper published this month in PLoS ONE examines what colour has to do with Pinterest popularity. The study took a million random image posts or "pins" from the site and analysed them for their predominant colour and number of repins. The key takeaway? Red, pink, and purple seem to promote repinning, while green, blue, black, and yellow seem to suppress it.

That's not terribly surprising, especially since Pinterest is so heavily female-dominated. But it's not simply that Pinterest is a sea of red, pink, and purple. The most common predominant colour was actually yellow (27 per cent) and the least common purple-red (0.2 per cent).

The study's authors dip into the psychology of colour to begin making sense of their results. Red, for example, obviously has so many powerful associations with love and lust. Pink walls has been found to calm prison inmates. Of course, there's also the interplay of content and colour, which the study did not get to examine. Recipes are especially popular on Pinterest, so are fashion and crafts, which may drive certain colours.

It would also be interesting to see how the role of colour might differ on different social networks like Flickr and Instagram and Imgur. They're all, at their core, image-sharing sites, but their audiences and purposes differ so radically—so too, probably, their rules of colour popularity.

[PLoS ONE]

Top image: shutterstock/avian