How Headlines Change the Way We Think
Four years later, this article still provides significance
"Why Headlines Matter.” “Misleading Headlines Can Lead You Astray.” “How What You Read Affects What You See.” “How Bad Headlines Make Bad Memories.” “Eleven Reasons Headlines Are Important.” “You’ll Never Believe How Important an Accurate Headline Is.”
Those are all possible titles for this piece that I discussed with my editor. And, actually, the one that we picked may be the most important part of this article. By now, everyone knows that a headline determines how many people will read a piece, particularly in this era of social media. But, more interesting, a headline changes the way people read an article and the way they remember it. The headline frames the rest of the experience. A headline can tell you what kind of article you’re about to read—news, opinion, research, LOLcats—and it sets the tone for what follows.
Psychologists have long known that first impressions really do matter—what we see, hear, feel, or experience in our first encounter with something colors how we process the rest of it. Articles are no exception. And just as people can manage the impression that they make through their choice of attire, so, too, can the crafting of the headline subtly shift the perception of the text that follows. By drawing attention to certain details or facts, a headline can affect what existing knowledge is activated in your head. By its choice of phrasing, a headline can influence your mindset as you read so that you later recall details that coincide with what you were expecting. For instance, the headline of this article I wrote—”A Gene That Makes You Need Less Sleep?”—is not inaccurate in any way. But it does likely prompt a focus on one specific part of the piece. If I had instead called it “Why We Need Eight Hours of Sleep,” people would remember it differently.
Please select this link to read the complete article from The New Yorker.