A recent study conducted by a team of researchers from Cornell University and Beijing University has found that retweeting may impair brain’s decision making abilities. The researchers focused on brain’s retention, comprehension and recall abilities when a person shares or retweets information. The study was published in the Computers in Human Behavior journal.

The researchers presented two groups of students with messages from Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. After viewing each message, one group had the option to share it or view the next message. The other group only had the option to view the next message; they couldn’t share the message with others. Both groups were then tested on how well they were able to recall and understand each message’s contents.

People in the group that only read messages without resharing them scored twice as well as the group that shared messages. The comprehension levels of the reshare group were especially bad since the group remembered the subject of the messages but did not understand its content.

The groups were again presented with the Weibo messages and had the same conditions of resharing messages or reading messages without resharing. This time, the groups were given an article from a science magazine they had to read and were tested on how well they comprehended its contents. Again, the group who did not repost the messages outscored the other group. The researchers concluded that it’s not the content material of the messages that lowered brain’s effectiveness, but the decision the group had to make on whether to share the messages or not.

The researchers added that for each message, the strain on our brain is not that significant, but for the number of messages we view in prolonged periods could cause the strain to get significantly compounded and it can be detrimental to the brain’s performance at the time of executing complex tasks.

Mr Qi Wang, a professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University, said, “The sharing leads to cognitive overload, and that interferes with the subsequent task. 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.”

This decrease in brain’s optimal performance can be linked to a phenomenon known as cognitive overloading.

What Is Cognitive Overloading?

Whenever we learn something new or process fresh information, we use our brain’s working memory. Our working memory has a short capacity; therefore, it is likely to become overburdened by excessive information. Whenever we try to study difficult subject matter and perform complicated tasks, our working memory needs to be at an optimal working condition, so overloading it with unnecessary knowledge hinders our abilities to perform complicated tasks such as learning to drive or playing our favorite song on guitar. This phenomenon is known as cognitive overloading.

Cognitive load varies from person to person and is dependent on nature of the subject matter that is to be learned and the person’s mental capacity to understand and retain things. So, for example, what can be overburdening to a beginner may not cause concern to a skilled individual. It also depends on the way information is presented, how much inner details are there and how the inner details are linked to each other, for example decorative paintings, animations etc. This kind of cognitive load is known as extraneous load and adds nothing to the learning experience.

In case of Twitter, there is an abundance of information that might not be relevant in some cases. So the risk of cognitive overloading is very high. Retweeting can be categorized under extraneous load.

How Can We Limit Retweets?

There are a number of ways we can prevent cognitive overloading due to retweeting. We can start by spending less time on Twitter and other social media websites that encourage resharing posts. It might sound a bit difficult but if we plan a daily schedule, we can manage our time more effectively and make room for other healthier activities.

Secondly, we can limit the number of people we follow on Twitter, so we are not bombarded by distracting tweets. We should follow people and topics that we are truly interested in so we don’t get lost in a maze of tweets.

Another way to limit retweets is that we have to train our minds to become more adept at processing information, which means that we need to develop an imaginary filter that can sort useful information from useless information. This will take a lot of time and practice and more importantly we need to know ourselves better to find our true interests and topics that excite us.

Lastly and most importantly, we’ll have to forcefully stop ourselves (sometimes) from excessive retweeting. When we realize we are spending a lot of time retweeting junk, we have to stop and take a break.

Is All Social Media Bad?

But not all social media is bad. Social media provides an effective and impactful way to connect with others and voice our opinions to the world. Social media can help promote businesses and share exciting content with the masses. It’s a make or break situation for most startups and their success is highly dependent on social media. Many small businesses can’t afford extensive media campaigns so they use social media to promote themselves or their products.

Hence, we have to make the best possible use of this medium without overburdening ourselves. So go ahead, retweet, but with utmost caution.