Sharing content online makes people feel more informed, even when they haven’t read it

A series of recent studies have shown that sharing content online, even when the person has not read it, increases subjective knowledge (what you think you know about a subject), but not necessarily objective knowledge (what that he really knows about the subject). The effect was stronger when study participants viewed sharing as voluntary, when the act of sharing could be associated with them personally, and when it was shared with people who were closer.

The researchers found that people whose subjective knowledge was increased in this way not only saw themselves as better informed about the topic, but also acted as if they were indeed more informed. The article presenting the results of these studies was published in the consumer psychology journal.

Humans are social beings and our social interactions shape our own perceptions of who we are. Our identity is constructed in interactions with others and sharing information about ourselves is an important aspect of these interactions. Part of its importance stems from the fact that knowledge in human society tends to be specialized and distributed among members of society. No one knows everything and knowing “who knows what” is very important to our ability to function as a society.

Much of this knowledge is obtained by observing the sharing of information. “Sharing involves knowing,” say the study authors. But in the digital age, many social interactions happen on social media where information can be shared unknowingly. We can share information on social networks without knowing the content of what we share. Can such a sharing of knowledge increase subjective knowledge, ie what one thinks one knows without increasing objective knowledge, ie what one actually knows?

Study author Adrian F. Ward and his two colleagues conducted a series of two pilot studies and seven main studies to explore how content sharing on social media affects subjective knowledge about shared content. They wanted to know how our perception of what we know about a topic is influenced by sharing material about that topic on social media, and what factors determine the strength of that influence.

Study participants were either individuals recruited through the Mechanical Turk (MTurk) and Prolific Academic platforms, or undergraduate students “from a major North American university”. The number of participants per study varied between 98 in the first study and 904 in the first phase of study 2.

The studies consisted of carefully designed sets of situations in which participants were presented with various textual materials, materials that they would have the opportunity or be asked to share after reading them to a different degree or not. have read at all, depending on the requirements of the particular study.

After the procedure, the researchers assessed the participants’ subjective knowledge of the material by asking them to indicate how familiar they were with the topic compared to the average person. Objective knowledge was assessed by asking participants to answer multiple-choice questions about the material.

Results from pilot studies have confirmed that people sometimes share posts on social media and tend to view those who post about a topic as more knowledgeable about that topic. Study 1 showed that sharing an article online was associated with higher subjective knowledge, but not objective knowledge.

The authors conclude that “this dissociation between objective and subjective knowledge suggests that the positive relationship between sharing and subjective knowledge cannot be explained by the fact that sharers know more than non-sharers about the content of an article”. Study 2 was designed to investigate whether it is sharing that inflates subjective knowledge or whether people with higher subjective knowledge tend to share more. The results indicated that it is indeed sharing on social networks that leads to an increase in subjective knowledge.

Studies 3-5 found that sharing content increased subjective knowledge more when sharing was done through free choice (as opposed to being forced or ordered to share), when content was shared with close friends (as opposed to sharing with strangers), and when the identity of the person sharing is known to others. Finally, Study 6 confirmed that after sharing content, participants not only say they are more knowledgeable, but also act like they are.

Although this series of studies revealed important psychological mechanisms that underlie subjective knowledge, the authors note that future research could focus on examining other contributors and consequences of the effect of sharing on subjective knowledge.

The newspaper “I share, therefore I know? Sharing content online – even without reading it – inflates subjective knowledge,” was written by Adrian Ward, Jianqing (Frank) Zheng and Susan M. Broniarczyk

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