Internet content, even goofy stuff, has the chance to go viral when it elicits a strong emotion, experts say.

So when a distraught young woman is caught with tears streaming down her face as she plays her piccolo - piccolo? - on national TV, it's the perfect formula for a Web sensation.

"The more people care, the more they share," said Jonah Berger, associate professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

And people cared about Villanova senior Roxanne Chalifoux because she cared so much about her Villanova Wildcats.

Chalifoux became an Internet star Saturday night after she was shown on national TV crying while playing the piccolo in the pep band just after Villanova's heartbreaking loss in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

"She cared so much about her team losing that she cried," Berger said. "It's a little inspiring."

Berger, author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On, has studied viral sensations and explains in his book that content evoking "high-arousal" emotions, such as awe or happiness or anger, is more likely to go viral.

By contrast, content that evokes sadness decreases the likelihood that people want to share what they see.

Chalifoux is, Berger said, "a great example of a heartwarming story."

Chalifoux - now a meme, a star of video clips, and even a Monday night guest on Jimmy Fallon's The Tonight Show - joins the ranks of other viral Internet sensations that, just like her, have emerged overnight.

Videos of her crying have been set to soundtrack lyrics, and hundreds of tweets have come to her defense.

In spite of it all, Chalifoux, who could not be reached for this article, has taken the jokes in stride.

"Villanova wildcat till I die, through the smiles and the tears," she tweeted Saturday.

Heartwarming, indeed.

mccabe@philly.com 610-313-8113 @mccabe_caitlin