Sharing Facebook posts can affect users' comprehension, says study

'What the research suggests is that we need to be smart about how we use social media'

Sharing items on social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Weibo can affect how well a user understands what they read, according to a new study.

The finding comes after researchers from Peking University and Cornell University carried out a study on users of Weibo, a Chinese micro-blogging site which is similar to Twitter.

Two groups of students both read 40 Weibo posts referencing the same topic. But the group who were given the option to repost the items did not perform as well as the group without the option in a subsequent comprehension test of the Weibo posts.

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The users with the option to repost also demonstrated that they did not fully understand what they had shared.

In the paper entitled “Does micro-blogging make us ‘shallow’?,” published in Computers in Human Behaviour, the researchers said: “The feedback function encourages individuals to make quick responses, taking away the time individuals would otherwise use to cogitate and integrate the content information they receive.”

In another test with a similar format, the group with the option to share items also performed more poorly on a subsequent reading comprehension test.

“When we are reposting and sharing information with others, we unwantedly add burden to our cognitive resources and, as a result, our own understanding of the information is compromised and our subsequent learning hindered,” said the researchers.

They concluded: “The findings provide important insights into the influence of Internet technology on reading and learning.”

Cognitive neuroscientist and creator of British Psychological Society’s Research Digest blog, Christian Jarrett, told The Independent that the study was an example of what psychologists call “media multitasking”.

“When people multitask in this way, they’re not really doing both tasks at once, they’re switching back and forth between the two, which slows down their performance on both tasks and interferes with comprehension.”

The research, Mr Jarrett said, suggested it was “a bad idea for people to spend time on social media directly before doing a piece of work”.

“For example, the implication is that using Twitter before doing homework will interfere with performance on the homework.”

However the findings did not mean that social media was bad for us. “What the research suggests is that we need to be smart about how we use social media… so that we gain from their benefits and avoid potential downsides.”

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