Myriad studies are dedicated to understanding why we love Year-End Lists (don’t you worry, we’ll get there); most research findings cluster around these things:
Predictability/Schemata No matter the content we all know what to expect from Year-End Lists; the predictable format allows us to develop schemata (mental maps of what to expect from something familiar), and digest content more easily and meaningfully.
Pavlov and Conditioning Many experts simply believe we’ve come to associate Year-End Lists with other things we love about the season; over time this positive re-enforcement loop conditions us to feel the same way about them as we do about, say, setting cookies out for Santa. So basically we’re just like Pavlov’s dog.
Definitiveness/Sense of Control The world is an unpredictable place full of moving targets we crave control over. Lists play to our desire to feel in control of things because they’re finite, definitive, and feel complete (significant research shows that people both desire and experience more well-being when they feel they are in control).
Round Numbers A list’s format aligns with our tendency in life to round things off to whole numbers and assign meaning to those numbers or groups (Mathew Isaac and Robert Schindler’s recent research indicates people lump things into round number groups and view everything outside that group as inferior).
FOMO Loss aversion research demonstrates we hate losing something we already have. Online Year-End Lists can feel like knowledge we own and will lose if we don’t click, so we do. In other words, the medium plays to a universal Fear Of Missing Out on things we feel belong to us.
TO DO: READ THESE YEAR-END FASHION LISTS (BECAUSE IT FEELS SO GOOD)
*EXCEPTION AS NOT END OF YEAR BUT TOTALLY WORTH IT
THANKS TO REPORTING FROM THE NEW YORKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES, AND BBC FOR RESEARCH REFERENCES.