Why objectively bad reviews and negativity often pique our curiosity even more


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To paraphrase a colleague, Cats reviews are becoming my favorite genre of journalism right now. The other night I stayed up until 2 a.m. reading about how this monstrosity of a film—like watching the least appealing Snapchat face filters on a very bad acid trip—should not exist, let alone be seen by human eyes. And naturally… I kind of want to see it. Not pay to see it, but see it. This is because nothing gets our curiosity piqued so high quite like a bad review⁠. And the stronger the negativity that’s communicated from the outset, the likelier it is that people will subject themselves to enduring the torture.

Take, for example, a case from a few months ago, when famed Brooklyn institution Peter Luger Steak House got decimated in a zero-star review from the New York Times. The effect? Not a shuttered business but rather even more five-stars reviews on the restaurant’s Yelp page that same week. Likewise, despite Well+Good’s recent communal loathing of SweetGreen 3.0, nearly the entire editorial staff still insisted on visiting the store to see what the deal with it is. And, psychologically speaking, it totally makes sense why.

“When something notable happens, everyone wants a piece of it,” says psychotherapist Jennifer Silvershein, LCSW, adding that “notable” can certainly include “unsavory.” “Historically, when there’s a bad car accident on the side of the road, or a car is pulled over, it instantly begins [a stream of] traffic because people are slowing down to see what happened. While many people slow down out of the goodness of their heart, a portion of people slow down so they can share the story and have the ‘inside scoop.'”

A similar effect applies when people drink beers or eat at restaurants or buy products or see nightmare fuel movies and share meh-at-best conclusions about the experience. It’s why if you get a pack of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, you have to try the booger flavor, even though you could just get a regular box of jelly beans and avoid candies meant to mimic nose nuggets (or you could always just not eat the booger flavor). But why would you do that? The reason we subject ourselves to these things has a lot do with having our curiosity piqued: It’s not necessarily masochism at play so much as wanting in on the story that’s already being written. People crave being part of the narrative—even a poorly rated one.

“People love to have the inside scoop on the good, the bad, and the ugly,” —Jennifer Silvershein, LCSW

“People love to have the inside scoop on the good, the bad, and the ugly,” says Silvershein. “People also love to be ‘different’ so the person who goes and actually loves it has a better story than the previous person who hated it, like everyone else.”

So, whether our curiosity piqued thanks to a desire to be contrarian or some good, old-fashioned FOMO, we subject ourselves to try things despite our better judgment because we want to feel included. And, because we’re all a bunch of gluttons for punishment, we share our bad reviews, offering the world a taste because we want others to be right there with us. It’s so misled and heartwarming, all at once.

But still, do remember that you really don’t have to sip the drink or eat the steak or wait a half-hour for the salad or stare in horror at Taylor Swift’s jiggling cat boobs in order to feel part of something. But on the other hand, if you want to be the Indiana Jones of zero-star restaurants, who am I to stop you?

In case you were curious (ahem) this is why waiting in line turns you into a horrible shell of a human being. And here’s the totally valid reason why we should be grossed out by double-dipping (but please, hold my drink).

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