Health Uncategorized

Mental fatigue from social media hinders response to ads, finds study

social media

HQ Team

April 28, 2023: Social media has become an intrinsic part of everyday life. Over 75% of the world’s population aged 13+ uses social media, and more than 93% of internet users are social media users, with an average time spend of 2 and a half hours daily.

Recent research by Matthew Pittman and his colleague Eric Haley from the University of Tennessee says mental fatigue due to social media affects our response to the advertisements that bombarded us on these platforms.

Social media influence

The control group in the three studies they undertook just had to look at an ad. A second group had to memorize a nine-digit number and then look at the ad. The third group scrolled through their Instagram feed for 30 seconds and then looked at the ad. For the first study, a meal recipe was shown, the second was for ice cream, and the third was for coffee beans.

The number of likes on each was changed. Some had a few hundred, and others saw thousands of likes for the same ad. After viewing the ad, each participant rated their willingness to buy the product and how much mental effort it took to think about the information. The Instagram group were the most likely to buy based on ads with the most likes and also reported the most mental effort for the decision. 

In one of the studies, they asked people to asses why they wanted to buy a particular product. Those in the control group gave simple, rational answers for their choice: “I was thinking of the ice cream flavors and how they would taste.” Or, “I like the ad. It is simple and clean. It gets straight to the point …”

However, those who scrolled social media for 30 seconds often gave answers that made no sense. For example, some gave one-word answers like “food” or “plate.” Others said it was difficult to process: “It had too many words and options in the picture.”

Cognitive overload

This kind of confusion is referred to as “cognitive overload.” The constant barrage of texts, videos and information in the span of several seconds leaves one feeling hassled and confused.

It is difficult to process any legitimate query when one is on the phone looking at a text from a friend, replying to a message from a parent and feeling exhausted after a marathon session of scrolling through shorts. The general answer to whether you want a Chinese meal or a pizza for dinner would most likely be “whatever.”

But the experiment showed that if a person is well informed about the product and has some knowledge about it as it happened with the ad on coffee beans, then almost all the study subjects took time to think through their buying decision.

It isn’t easy to pinpoint which social media platforms, such as TikTok, Instagram Reels, and YouTube, are the most mentally taxing. All have an overload of media, texts, animations and sound. Also, these platforms attract a lot of advertisement spends, and the algorithms tend to throw up a constant barrage of products aimed at your search criteria and from those in your friends’ circle and feed.

The experiment is an attempt to make consumers aware of how social media and overuse of screen time can unconsciously influence one’s buying decisions and force one to spend over unnecessary things. Hence, learning to exercise more discretion and making your buying decision in your leisure time is recommended.


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