“Why 9NEWS is this news?! This is tabloid trash.”
“This is huge?! As North Korea is aiming nuclear warheads at us?!”
“I don’t care.”
This is just a small sampling of comments on what has been the top traffic driver on 9NEWS.com this week.
The overwhelming sentiment on social media is that people overwhelmingly don’t care about what’s supposed to be a nine-day trial inside of a Denver courthouse involving pop star Taylor Swift and former KYGO DJ David Mueller. She claims he groped her during a meet-and-greet before a June 2, 2013 show at the Pepsi Center. He says he didn't and he lost his job over it. Now he's suing her, and she's suing him back.
No, it’s not the most important thing happening in the world right now. That’s not a question and was never up for debate. But despite this, stories about the Taylor Swift trial have consistently been the most viewed on 9NEWS.com.
This begs two questions: why are people so interested in what could be qualified as a salacious, celebrity story that deals with a very serious topic like sexual assault? And secondly, why do people say they don’t care when the numbers very, very clearly indicate that they do?
9NEWS Psychologist Dr. Max Wachtel says it’s not your fault. Instead, you can blame your ancestors.
“We’re actually evolutionarily predisposed to like gossip, and to like gossip about famous people,” Wachtel said.
“You know, when we hook our brains up to fMRIs and we hear gossip about our friends, bad news about our friends, bad news about celebrities, the reward center … explodes. The other thing that happens is our self-control center also lights up when we hear bad celebrity news. We’re basically trying to let the world know that we don’t really care about the fact that we think it’s awesome that celebrities are going through some kind of turmoil.”
That’s not necessarily … encouraging about the way people are (it's actually kind of sad if you think about it), but there’s more to it than just a grim fascination with other people’s misfortune (terrible, tragic stories unfortunately also tend to be top traffic drivers on 9NEWS.com).
Wachtel says from an evolutionary perspective, it can actually be “helpful or beneficial” to know what high-status people are doing and the pitfalls of what they are dealing with. The purpose of that? So you can also achieve that elevated status.
While for our ancestors, one could argue that paying attention to celebrity gossip essentially saved their lives, Wachtel says that’s not the case today.
“It’s not really a life-or-death situation, but we still have those neurons firing in our brain the same way,” Wachtel said.
Ok, so there’s a reason why people care about celebrity news – and it’s one a little bit more complicated than you’d think.
With that being said, why do people feel such a pervasive need to publicly say they don’t care?
“These people are maybe protesting too much,” Wachtel said. “People care about this stuff. They will click on
the links. They’ll watch the news. There’s a reason why journalists from all over the world are covering the Taylor Swift trial.”
“But, we kind of sound like an idiot if you said you really care about Taylor Swift. Like why do I, a grown man who probably couldn’t even pick out a Taylor Swift song – nothing against Taylor Swift, I’m not her target demographic – why do I care about the trial? I don’t know, but I do. But it’s weird to admit that because it makes me sound like an idiot.”
Dr. Max put an informal poll about celebrity gossip on Twitter. Barely anyone admitted they love it – but quite a few were able to admit it is their “secret shame” (not a majority though).
Do you like hearing celebrity gossip? I'll be talking to #9News about the neuroscience behind why most people do.— Max Wachtel (@mwachtel) August 10, 2017
Can’t see the poll? Click here: http://bit.ly/2uKCudL
And maybe people genuinely don’t care, and aren’t interested, but the fact remains: data indicates some people do. And if you can’t help but read stories about celebrity gossip, don’t feel bad. Blame your brain.
“You see something on social media about Taylor Swift … and that reward center starts, you know, going off in your brain, and it feels good, but it feels bad to feel good about that," Wachtel said. "So taking the time to click on the link, to say ‘I don’t care about this, why are you reporting on this?’ is a way of telling the world ‘I don’t really care about this’ even though I do.”