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Why is Wordle Everywhere? The Psychology Behind the Latest Social Media Craze

Wordle on a phone

If you have a social media account, you’ve seen the posts. A grid of black and green squares representing a friend’s Wordle score for the day. Where did this phenomenon come from? Dr. Josh Garrin, an adjunct psychology professor at SNHU, explains the psychology behind the game and why we love to share.

Josh Garrin

Wordle has taken the social media world by storm recently. Why do games like this seem to pop up every now and again and capture so many people’s attention?

Wordle has become the phenomenon that it is for a multitude of reasons, such as its relative ease of accessibility/use and the low cognitive load (compared to other multi-step analytical word games). It’s free of the ads (for the moment, anyway). And it satisfies our need for left-brain input without taxing it. The bottom line: It’s a simple escape from daily life that demands little to nothing from us and contains just the right combination of challenges, intellect and dopamine.

How does the one word a day format add to its popularity? Is there a psychological component that makes that format attractive?

The one-game-a-day format feeds into what is known in psychology circles as the scarcity principle (i.e., the less accessible something is, the greater the craving we develop for it). The moment we complete the game, we’re already looking forward to tomorrow’s attempt. Likewise, there is no archive for us to continually recycle by refreshing our browser. As a result, the reward that we receive by winning feels more intermittent and random, which intensifies the dopamine hit and feeds the addiction factor.

Since everyone plays the same word every day, it would be easy for players to spoil it for others. Why do you think that doesn’t seem to happen very often?

Given the sense of connection that social media can provide, knowing that we are simultaneously playing with millions of people all over the world can amplify the “fun factor,” which the vast majority of us don’t want to spoil. In this sense, there is a “communal” element at play that cannot be ignored. Likewise, if you’re a frequent winner, you may feel as though you’re a member of a special in-group. In such cases, it’s very possible that some people may choose to forgo “Wordle worship” (i.e., Hey, look at me – I did it in two attempts!”) in an effort to preserve the sanctity of this “esteemed” institution.

It's become popular for players to share their Wordle diagram on social media, which some people find very annoying. Why are some non-players bothered by these posts?

Let’s face it, social media can be a platform for competition and comparison. For some, a Wordle win equates to a status symbol, a badge of honor. Any content that showcases our achievements has the potential to quickly turn into an online bragging contest, and Wordle is no exception. (Google “Wordle bragging” – it’s a real thing.) Of course, it’s human nature for some people to dislike trends that skyrocket so quickly in popularity. However, we’ve seen the extent to which social media can polarize us, and with our “impressive” Wordle results shareable across platforms, well, you know what that means.

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