The Psychology of Wordle: In case you haven’t heard, Wordle is a daily free word game that has garnered millions of fans since its launch in October.
But why did it become such a worldwide success?
Matt Baldwin, a psychologist at the University of Florida, points out several psychological concepts that explain our enthusiasm for this simple yet extremely shareable game.
1. Wordle provides an “aha” moment even when you lose
The moment at the end of the puzzle when the answer is revealed provides what psychologists calla sudden influx of fluency And this is something we’re hardwired to follow, says Baldwin.
“Even if you don’t get it and the answer is exposed, it feels good to find that solution,” said he.
We don’t just look for that sense of fluency in games, he said, but also when we’re trying to solve a problem in our work or in our relationships.
2 It distracts us from the constant stream of worrying news
“We are overwhelmed,” said Baldwin. “Things can’t hold our attention because we’re so bombarded” by all the bad news that keeps popping up on our screens.
But Wordles, on the other hand, offer a perfect way to create what what psychologists call “flow”: the pleasurable immersion we feel when we approach an activity with the right combination of meaning and challenge.
This is also referred to as “being” in the zone.”
Wordle is neither too easy nor too difficult, and it doesn’t demand too much of our attention,” said Baldwin.
It’s also targeted, he said. “It feels like you’re exercising your brain” and not just pointlessly stacking blocks on a screen.
3. Wordle can easily be shared
Have you even been a fan of a band no one else seemed to know about and then got excited when you met someone who also loved that band?
This is the essence of shared reality theory – our subjective preferences feel validated when someone else shares them.
And with its seamless sharing feature, Wordle provides just such an experience.
“We like to align our internal states with the internal states of others,” said Baldwin.
“I might think Wordle is fun, but when I see everyone else on Twitter think it’s fun, it’s like it becomes an objective fact,” he said.
4. Wordle is eminently safe: scarcity increases interest
Offering once a day keeps Wordle from being “too familiar,” Baldwin said.
The brevity of the “revealing moment” keeps it interesting.
5. It satisfies our urge to fit in with our peers
If your friends are doing Wordles on social media, then you’ve probably seen someone post that they too have “quit” and started playing.
It’s peer pressure, but peer pressure isn’t inherently bad, said Baldwin.
The concept of in-group identity can help us connect with others.
“Norms allow us to align our attitudes, beliefs, and identities with those of other people in our group. It gives us something to band together around and helps form a collective identity,” he said.
If you share your Wordle results on social media, say, “Look me, I do Wordle just like everyone else.” And that makes you feel like you’re part of a special group.
6. This is a socially responsible way to show off your intelligence
Sharing your daily Wordle score not only means you’re part of the group; it also shows how you did, providing an opportunity for social comparison.
And for better or worse, Baldwin says, we love social comparison.
“Comparison can hurt self-esteem if you’re always comparing up to people who are unattainable,” he said.
“But I can learn something about myself by measuring myself against others, and it doesn’t always have to be e be in negative feeling.”
“Maybe people just like the information they get from looking at what other people are doing and getting a sense of where they stand. “
Bottom line: we love Wordle because our brains are programmed to love it
Put all these concepts together and Wordle’s exponential growth starts to make sense.
It’s about much more than guessing a five-letter word.
“Shared experiences give a lot of meaning to life,” said Baldwin.
“They help us align ourselves with what’s good, what makes sense, and what’s worthwhile.”
Want to get started? Check out the official Wordle website here.
Photo: by Afif Kusuma on Unsplash