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Livestreaming: The science behind the fad

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Occasionally, the International Space Station livestreams the landscape it sees outside of its’ portholes. The US Park’s Department has several cameras set up in its’ parks showing live feeds of several interesting animals, from bald eagles to just serene country-sides. From time to time marine biologists livestream their deep-sea expeditions for thousands of intrigued people. Now, you can join several millions of individuals around the world who are watching the live video feed of a giraffe named April about to give birth at the Animal Adventure Park in New York. But why?

Apart from the marketing value this video generates for the zoo itself, it offers people the option to see something they don’t usually get the opportunity to. However, the rise of social media and its’ ability to insert itself into people’s everyday interactions (like Twitter or Snapchat), has begun a trend whereby people seek to insert themselves into a given situation. So is it a form of voyeurism or a growing need to inform oneself via a different medium?

A study presented at The Asian Conference on Psychology and Behavioural Sciences (ACPBS) in 2015 as well as a recent paper published in the Journal of Dynamic Decision Making (JDDM ) began to break down what exactly was drawing crowds of people to watch something they had no control over. Both studies refrained from taking a hard stance on what exactly drives people to watch livestreams, but they agreed on the principle that the overall novelty of a situation coupled with its’ distracting properties and its’ potential to educate were major factors that influenced their decision-making process.

What to watch next?

As Alexander Wendt wrote in JDDM, the draw of livestreaming is that it provides viewers with “things that are not currently imaginable, by showing that they happened”. Essentially, the more bizarre or mysterious the subject of the livestream, the more it pulls at our own cognitive function and intrinsic need for knowledge. This in itself helps explain the availability and overall diversity of what is accessible to be livestreamed: video games, scientific research, far-away landscapes and, well, a giraffe giving birth.

As far as the latter goes, people have been tuning into the zoo’s livestream waiting for progress for several days, and you too can join the crowd of individuals watching April the giraffe. Edit; Live stream has ended hence the video link was removed; however, youtube has constant livestreaming content available.

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