Sharing to Social Media Affects What You Think You Know – Psychology Today

September 10, 2022
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The question is not whether you’ll change; you will. Research clearly shows that everyone’s personality traits shift over the years, often for the better. But who we end up becoming and how much we like that person are more in our control than we tend to think they are.
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Posted August 15, 2022 | Reviewed by Davia Sills
Check out your social media feeds. There are some personal updates, the occasional query to the “hive mind,” and lots of links to articles on a variety of topics. Presumably, people have read the articles they share (or at least skimmed them), but that may not always be the case. You might see something on a topic of interest and pass it along to your connections without really taking a look at it.
A paper in a 2022 issue of the Journal of Consumer Psychology by Adrian Ward, Frank Zheng, and my University of Texas colleague Susan Broniarczyk suggests that sharing a post on social media increases your belief about how knowledgeable you are on a topic.
The first study was purely observational. Participants could choose to read some articles from a set. They did not have to read them. They also had the chance to choose to share some of those articles with future study participants. About 40 percent of the time an article was shared, the person sharing it had read it completely. About 20 percent of the shared articles had been read only partially. The remaining 40 percent of the shared articles had not been read.
At the end of the study, participants completed short quizzes about the topics of the articles (their objective knowledge), and they rated how much they thought they knew about the topic (their subjective knowledge). Unsurprisingly, the more of a given article the participants read, the greater their objective knowledge. Their subjective knowledge (their belief about their knowledge) also increased with their objective knowledge. Interestingly, subjective knowledge also increased just by sharing the article—whether they read it or not.
Of course, there are many potential explanations for a correlational study like this. In one follow-up, participants rated their knowledge about a variety of topics, including cancer prevention. Two weeks later, they returned to the study and read either a target article about cancer prevention or a control topic (identity-theft prevention). After reading the assigned article, participants were either assigned to a condition in which they shared the article about cancer prevention to their Facebook feed (with an option of the image they wanted to pair with it) or just to review potential posts without sharing them. Then they rated their (subjective) knowledge about a variety of topics, including cancer prevention.
Similar to the results of the correlational study, people’s subjective belief about their knowledge of the topic of cancer prevention went up when they shared the post on their social media—whether they had read the article or not.
Subsequent experiments replicated this effect and found that the increase in subjective belief happened only when people believed they were sharing with people they would encounter again. Sharing with random strangers did not change their beliefs about their knowledge.
In one final study, groups were assigned to share (or not share) a story about financial planning. After that, they participated in a retirement investment scenario in which they received advice about how risky they should be in their retirement savings based on their age. People who shared the investment article chose riskier investments than those who did not share it, suggesting that just believing you understand the topic can influence your behavior.
This research reinforces the importance of reading the information you share with others on social media before you post. Sharing without reading can contribute to the illusion of explanatory depth, in which you believe you understand the world better than you actually do.
References
Ward, A.F., Zheng, J.F., & Broniarczyk, S.M. (2022). I share therefore I know? Sharing online content–even without reading it–inflates subjective knowledge. Journal of Consumer Psychology.
Art Markman, Ph.D., is a cognitive scientist at the University of Texas whose research spans a range of topics in the way people think.
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The question is not whether you’ll change; you will. Research clearly shows that everyone’s personality traits shift over the years, often for the better. But who we end up becoming and how much we like that person are more in our control than we tend to think they are.

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