The Psychology Behind an Online Quiz

psychology of marketing quizzesThose quizzes you see floating around your newsfeed aren’t just for fun– they’re inherently designed with elements of human psychology in mind. It can make them seem almost irresistible at times, which is why they work so incredibly well for marketing and lead generation.

From our perspective as marketers, quizzes are designed to generate leads, but they can appeal to quiz takers in so many other ways as well. The graphic below, from, is one of the simplest ways to highlight the psychological fulfillment that comes from taking a quiz, and then sharing the results on your social media profile. Of course, an online quiz isn’t likely to meet your basic physiological and safety needs, but this marketing strategy has the potential to check off each of the other three levels of psychological need.

maslow's hierarchy of needs

Understanding the Basics of Why We Take, Share and Love Online Quizzes

Before we explore the specifics of online quiz psychology, think back to a time before the social media sharing phenomenon. Many of us still took quirky and unscientific quizzes, usually those found in magazines. It’s something our parents and even grandparents often did as well.

It wasn’t uncommon to turn to the page of a magazine and see the obligatory “Which _ Are You,” or “What Type of _ Are You,” already penciled in by a previous reader.

It’s this early form of these psychologically-driven quizzes that inspired marketers to modernize the concept and introduce it at a digital level, which has led to the viral rise of quizzes that are so seemingly simple, like “What Type of Friend Are You,” or “Which Dog Breed Are You.” Quizzes seem like such a basic concept, yet they’re increasingly becoming one of the go-to tools of marketers who want to expand their reach, capture more leads, and refine their marketing approach.

Below, we’ll delve into some of the specific psychological reasons why quizzes are appealing. We believe that these psychological components are imperative to understand because they’re going to help you connect with your audience. When you understand the mental processes behind taking an online quiz, it becomes easier to create them and ensure they become successful in attaining your marketing objectives.

Introspection and Self-Confirmation

We recently came across a Huffington Post piece, highlighting not just the natural drivers that compel us to take online quizzes, but also some examples of personality quizzes that are popular for the way they seem to allow you to “get to know yourself.” Think about this: how often do you hear the phrase “finding myself,” whether from your actual acquaintance, or in popular culture? Everyone wants to be able to look inside themselves and uncover those things that motivate them, inspire them, and attract them. Those are all things a good quiz can satisfy.

One of the primary reasons people are willing to take an online quiz is to get to know themselves better, which is a quest as old as time. That’s why the model of “Which _ Are You Actually” or “What Type of _ Are You” works so well. It drives that inherent need to “know thyself.”

In many instances taking a quiz on social media is also just a way for users to confirm something they already feel they know about themselves. For example, if you see a quiz asking where you’re really destined to live, you may already feel you’re a worldly, artistic person who belongs in Paris, rather than small town America. You may not be taking that quiz to learn this about yourself, but instead, you’re taking it to confirm something you already believe to be true.

One of the biggest things people struggle with is that need to define themselves, to define their identity, to know who they are. When you can craft a quiz that speaks to those desires, it’s an extremely powerful marketing tool.

Quizzes can also provide something about your self-identity difficult to come by. They can put an exact number or quantifiable value on a personality characteristic or set of traits you may feel you have.

These psychological aspects of a quiz highlight what we showed in the graphic above. They work with our need for self-actualization. At the same time, they’re not intimidating. They’re provide introspection. They fulfill a bit of that need to know ourselves, but we know the results aren’t likely to be something we don’t want to hear, so we keep taking the bait every time someone on our Facebook profile asks us which Star Wars character we really are.

Take a look at the example quiz results below. This quiz tells you your inherent personality traits, and wraps it all in a very positive bow. What’s not to love?

what career were you meant for quiz

Recognition and Self-Esteem

We touched on this a bit above– you don’t see a lot of quiz results floating around indicating the person who originally took it is horrible, stupid, or worthless, right?

Most of the quiz results indicate quite the opposite. They show that the person who took it is smart, talented, special, destined for something big, or has some outstanding trait that makes them stand out. These are the things people want to share about themselves.

So many of us want to share something about ourselves with others, but of course, you’re not likely to go up to someone and directly tell them you’re really intelligent, intuitive, and thoughtful. Instead, you let your quiz results do the talking for you. You take the quiz, you share it, and then your social network knows something great about you. Maybe it’s as simple as you’re a good friend, or you know a lot about a particular topic.

The following image from Bufferapp shows the top reasons we share, and you’ll see two of those five reasons include defining ourselves to others and self-fulfillment.

sharing is all about relationships NYT study

No matter what it is, people want to share things that gain them recognition, boost their self-esteem, and just make them feel good. You’re able to get the message out there about your good qualities, without sounding like a complete narcissist. The below graphic with information compiled by The New York Times shows more about why we share, particularly as it pertains to giving people a better sense of who we are.

what motivates people to share content

The following infographic from Coschedule shows us, in even further detail, a few aspects of why we share.

lessons psychology teaches us

Personal Engagement

When we say quizzes are popular because of their ability to create engagement, we mean this in two ways. The first is that a quiz can feel like a conversation, meant just for you.

That’s really the beauty of any interactive content: it speaks to the desire we have for personalization. That’s why we frequently advise our clients to keep that important psychological element in mind when they’re designing. You want your quiz to feel personalized and conversational because that’s what’s going to make it most compelling for a user.

The other side of this is that taking and sharing a quiz lets us start conversations with people in our social network. These quizzes allow us to put ourselves out there and approach conversations we might not otherwise think about having.

Not only are you longing for a sense of belonging when you share the results, but just by taking a quiz you’re putting yourself in a larger group of people. For example, if you take an online quiz that says you should be a novelist, you’re among what you may view as an elite group of other people who have the same calling.

The slide below highlights some of the elements of our need for belonging, and you can see how these requirements can be met with a quiz. This slide was created by Steve Yuen, Professor Emeritus at The University of Southern Mississippi.

sense of community

Quizzes, Social Media and Our Hierarchy of Needs

The next time you’re browsing your newsfeed and you come across a catchy quiz title, you might think differently about it after understanding they’re a lot more than just a fun way to kill time during the work day. Quizzes work for marketing because the speak to our innate, human psychological needs.

We bet you never realized that what seems like a marketing tool is actually so much more.

With that in mind, we’ll leave you with this chart, highlighting Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, compiled by SMTT and Lombok. It’s a helpful illustration to guide you through the creation of your next lead generation quiz. If you can keep the upper-level needs in mind by creating a quiz that’s insightful and entertaining for the user, evokes positive emotion and self-worth, and can be used to generate a sense of community, it’s likely to become a hit with your followers.

maslow's hierarchy of needs

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Build Your Email List By 100K This Year Using Quizzes

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