The Psychology of Short-Form Content: Why We Love Bite-Sized Videos

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Erica Santiago
Erica Santiago

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Let me tell you the most challenging part of my job. Often, I will delete TikTok and Instagram from my phone because I can't help but waste time endlessly scrolling through these apps, watching dozens of short-form videos in one sitting.

A person watches a short-form video on their smartphone

Then, like clockwork, I redownload these apps because I must write about them for work. Thus, the cycle of endless scrolling continues.

Sure, I could blame the nature of the job, but my endless scrolling stems from the fact that I love short-form videos.

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And I'm not the only one. 73% of consumers prefer to watch short-form videos to learn about a product or service, and 56% of marketers reported that short-form video was the top trend they planned to invest in in 2024.

So, why are short-form videos so popular? Turns out there are a few reasons, one of which involved a bit of psychology. Let's get into it!

What are short-form videos?

Why are short-form videos so popular?

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    What are short-form videos?

    Short-form videos are videos that are less than 60 seconds in duration. However, some marketers and content creators agree that short-form videos can be up to 3 minutes. But, if you want my opinion, I would stick to the 60-second rule.

    I take this stance because attention spans are getting shorter, but we'll get into that later.

    Anyway, short-form videos deliver information in a digestible, bite-size format so viewers can quickly watch and bookmark the content if they're on the go or watch it multiple times.

    Why are short-form videos so popular?

    There are a few reasons short-form videos are more popular than ever among consumers and marketers, and I‘ll visit those in a bit. For now, I want to get into the psychology of it all—that’s why we're here, right? Walk with me.

    Consumer Attention Spans are Shrinking

    Science tells us that one of the crucial reasons we love short-form videos is that our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter.

    Dr. Gloria Mark, a psychologist, recently wrote a book called Attention Span: A Groundbreaking Way to Restore Balance, Happiness, and Productivity, and she says her research indicates people's attention spans have been shrinking over the last 20 years.

    Dr. Mark shared her findings on Speaking of Psychology, an American Psychological Association podcast.

    Her findings came from a decades-long experiment she participated in, which was first conducted by shadowing participants and tracking their activities via stopwatches.

    “We would record the start time and the stop time,” she said.

    She explains, “So you're on a screen where you're working in a Word doc. As soon as you get to that screen, we click start time. As soon as they turned away and checked the email, we clicked stop time for the Word document and start time for the email.”

    Over time, logging techniques became more sophisticated as technology advanced, and it only made the pattern of shrinking attention spans clearer.

    “So back in 2004, we found the average attention span on any screen to be two and a half minutes on average,” Dr. Mark recalls during the interview. “Throughout the years, it became shorter. So around 2012, we found it to be 75 seconds.”

    Dr. Mark says the number continued to dip as the years went on.

    “And then in the last five, six years, we found it to average about 47 seconds—and others have replicated this result within a few seconds. So it seems to be quite robust,” she says.

    And this trend of dwindling attention spans is affecting how we consume content. And I'm not just talking about social media videos — even television and film shots are getting more brief, according to Dr. Mark.

    “They started out much longer. They now average about four seconds a shot length,” she says. “If you watch MTV music videos, they're much shorter. They're only a couple of seconds. So we've become accustomed to seeing very fast shot lengths when we look at TV and film.”

    Dr. Mark explains during the interview that it‘s a chicken vs. egg situation — she’s unsure which came first or what's influencing the other.

    However, the fact remains that we‘re becoming more accustomed to shorter bursts of content, and it’s bleeding into the kind of content we consume and what's being created.

    Studies found that most consumers will only watch an entire video if it's less than 60 seconds long. Then you have apps like TikTok, YouTube Shorts, and Instagram Reels that push short-form videos to users in an infinite scroll format.

    Furthermore, our 2024 Marketing Trends Report found that almost a third of marketing professionals say their company will leverage short-form video content in 2024, and 53% said they'll boost their investment in the content type this year.

    This makes sense since most marketers in our survey say short-form video content yielded them the highest ROI last year.

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      In case you're curious, here are a couple more reasons why many of us love short-form videos.

      1. They are cost-effective and easier to create than long-form videos.

      With long-form videos, marketers and creators must work extra hard to keep their audience engaged. That means strengthening the content with dynamic shots, mood-setting music, and a long but compelling script.

      All that takes more time, effort, and (most importantly) money.

      Short-form videos are more to the point and often require fewer frills to be effective.

      For example, language learning platform Duo Lingo's TikTok account has over 10.8 million followers and is one of the most well-known accounts on the app due to its short, funny, and slightly unhinged videos.

      Its most popular video has 57.7 million views and is super simple in terms of execution.

      It shows a plushy of the Duo Lingo owl getting tossed down the stairs at the company's office, sitting outside on a rainy day, and getting soaked in a shower.

      The caption of the video is “When you ignore my notifications.”

      The video was clearly shot on someone's smartphone without fancy angles or lighting. The music is from a viral song already available via its sound archives. So simple, so cheap, yet so effective.

      2. They can provide valuable information in a short amount of time.

      According to a recent Adobe Survey, 2 in 5 Americans use TikTok as a search engine, and nearly 1 in 10 Gen Zers are more likely to rely on TikTok than Google as a search engine.

      I even find myself taking to TikTok to look up recipes or figure out how to style a denim maxi-skirt (the trick is to experiment with different layers and silhouettes).

      Between work, family, hobbies, and rest — time is precious, and short-form videos allow us to absorb the information we need in under a minute. Who doesn't love that?

      3. You can watch them almost anytime, anywhere.

      Bored on the train downtown? Scroll through TikTok. Need to kill some time in between classes or appointments? Pull up YouTube Shorts or Instagram Reels on your phone.

      Want to use your 5-minute break between meetings to figure out why everyone is talking about the latest JLo documentary? Let's circle back to TikTok.

      Short-form videos are easy to watch almost anywhere and anytime from our smartphones.

      Not only is this convenient for consumers, but it also helps marketers because it means we can repurpose our content on various platforms knowing someone will see it from somewhere.

      There are different reasons to love short-form videos.

      Some reasons are a little more concerning than others (seriously, why are our attention spans so short?), but no matter the reason, the fact remains the same —short forms aren't going away anytime soon.

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      Topics: Video Marketing

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