Uh-oh. Psychologists have found that sharing information with your friends makes it much harder to remember what that information was.
In experiments at Beijing University, a bunch of students were split into two groups and presented with a series of messages from Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent. After reading each one, one group was given the option to share it or go on to the next message, while the other was only allowed to go on to the next message.
After going through all of the messages, the students were tested on their content. Those in the group who had the option to share the messages gave almost twice as many wrong answers and demonstrated poor comprehension.
“For things that they reposted, they remembered especially worse,” said Qi Wang, who co-authored a paper on the results in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.
Why? Well, the researchers reckon that the students who had the choice to share or not share got distracted by that choice, leading to “cognitive overload”. Merely making the decision consumed cognitive resources that then couldn’t be spent on understanding the message.
To test that theory, the researchers did a second experiment – getting the students to read a bunch of Weibo messages (with the same share option offered to one group) then read an unrelated magazine article. Again, those with the option to share performed worse when quizzed on the article’s contents, and when asked to rate the cognitive demands of the message-viewing task they confirmed a higher cognitive drain.
“The sharing leads to cognitive overload, and that interferes with the subsequent task,” Wangsaid. “In real life when students are surfing online and exchanging information and right after that they go to take a test, they may perform worse.”
Wang added that web designers should take these results into account, creating interfaces designed to promote rather than interfere with cognitive processing. “Online design should be simple and task-relevant,” she said.
Now go share this story with your friends. Unless you want to remember it, of course.