Retweeting or otherwise sharing information creates a “cognitive overload” that interferes with learning and retaining what you have just seen, a new study has found.
That overload can spill over and diminish performance in the real world, according to researchers from Cornell University in the US and Beijing University.
“Most people do not post original ideas any more. You just share what you read with your friends,” said Qi Wang from Cornell University.
“But they do not realise that sharing has a downside. It may interfere with other things we do,” said Wang.
Researchers conducted experiments in Beijing University with a group of Chinese college students as subjects, showing that “retweeting” interfered with learning and memory, both online and off.
At computers in a laboratory setting, two groups were presented with a series of messages from Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, researchers said.
After reading each message, members of one group had options either to repost or go on to the next message. The other group was given only the “next” option, they said.
After finishing a series of messages, the students were given an online test on the content of those messages. Those in the repost group offered almost twice as many wrong answers and often demonstrated poor comprehension, researchers said.
What they did remember they often remembered poorly, they said.
“For things that they reposted, they remembered especially worse,” said Wang.
Researchers theorised that reposters were suffering from “cognitive overload.” When there is a choice to share or not share, the decision itself consumes cognitive resources, said Wang.
This led to a second experiment - after viewing a series of Weibo messages, the students were given an unrelated paper test on their comprehension of an article.
Again, participants in the no-feedback group outperformed the reposters. Subjects also completed a Workload Profile Index, in which they were asked to rate the cognitive demands of the message-viewing task, researchers said.
The results confirmed a higher cognitive drain for the repost group, they said.
“The sharing leads to cognitive overload, and that interferes with the subsequent task,” said Wang.
“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,” she added. The findings were published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour.