Psychology of YouTube Thumbnails: Explained (2024)

Article last updated on:
June 02, 2024

YouTube thumbnails are tiny billboards vying for your attention in a crowded marketplace.

Today, we’re explaining the science behind thumbnails.

Understanding the psychology behind them can help creators craft thumbnails that resonate with viewers and boost clicks.

The Psychology of YouTube Thumbnails

The psychology of YouTube thumbnails is all about grabbing attention and making a viewer click on a video.

Just like we’ve said before — they act like mini billboards for content.

1. Grab Attention

Rule: First Impressions Matter.

Before and After Thumbnail - Example from Mrwhosetheboss

Thumbnails are often the first thing viewers see, so making a strong visual impression is crucial. This involves using:

2. Raise Curiosity

Rule: Use faces to make them wonder what’s up.

Carwow's Example of the one-question format for YouTube Thumbnails

Thumbnails can trigger emotional responses that entice viewers to click. Examples include:

  • Surprise or Intrigue: Using wide eyes, open mouths, or question marks can pique curiosity.
  • Excitement: Energetic poses, bright colors, and action shots can generate excitement.
  • Happiness: Smiling faces and positive imagery can evoke positive emotions.

3. Clear Communication

Rule: Use text to succinctly tell your video’s purpose.

Example of a YouTube Thumbnail with a quote

3.1. Clarity

Thumbnails should accurately represent the video content.

Misleading viewers with clickbait tactics can damage trust and backfire in the long run.

3.2. Specifics over Generalities

  • Avoid generic imagery.
  • Use specific visuals and text that clearly convey the video’s topic and value proposition.

Table: Science Behind Thumbnails

By understanding these psychological principles, creators can craft thumbnails that effectively capture attention, spark curiosity, and accurately communicate the value their video offers.

1. Grabbing AttentionFirst Impressions MatterBright Colors, High Contrast, Clear Text
2. Sparking Curiosity and EmotionEvoking Emotions (Surprise, Excitement, Happiness)Faces & Human Connection
3. Clarity and CommunicationClear Communication, Specifics over GeneralitiesUse specific, not generic images

Remember, striking a balance between grabbing attention and honest representation is key to creating successful YouTube thumbnails.


This is the psychology of YouTube thumbnails.

Wasn’t so hard in the end, right?

Thank you for reading this,
Thumbnail Test

About the author

David is the head of the editing team at ThumbnailTest. With his help, the editorial team is able to provide you with the best free guides related to YouTube thumbnails and A/B testing.