Sep 2, 2022 - News

UT study: Social media makes us overconfident

Photo illustration: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Social media makes us think we know more than we really do, and University of Texas researchers can prove it.

The big picture: The group found that sharing news articles on social media can make people feel overconfident in their knowledge of the article's content, even if they didn't read it.

  • That's especially true when sharing with close friends, according to the paper in the Society for Consumer Psychology written by UT marketing professor Susan Broniarczyk, associate marketing professor Adrian Ward and marketing doctoral alum Frank Zheng.

Why it matters: We live in a world in which it's easy to share an article without reading a single word.

Details: The group's findings came out of several studies, which revealed that sharers are overconfident because they put personal information online — committing to an expert identity — which helps them "feel just as knowledgeable as their post makes them seem."

  • The first two studies measured participants' subjective and objective knowledge after reading and sharing news articles.
  • For the final study, 300 Facebook users were asked to read an article on investing and broke into groups for sharing or not sharing.
  • In a supposedly unrelated task, participants were asked to distribute $10,000 in retirement funds between stocks and bonds with the advice of a "robo-advised planning simulation." Those who shared the investing article were twice as likely to make riskier moves than those recommended by the robo-adviser.

What they're saying: "When people feel they're more knowledgeable, they're more likely to make riskier decisions," Ward said.

Some good news: The research also suggests that there's some merit to social media companies encouraging users to read articles before sharing. (Twitter sends a pop-up message if you haven't clicked on the article before retweeting.)

The bottom line: "If people feel more knowledgeable on a topic, they also feel they maybe don't need to read or learn additional information on that topic," Broniarczyk said. "This miscalibrated sense of knowledge can be hard to correct."


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