When a Twitter addict comes across a notable news story or lol-sy 140-character witticism, they're faced with a choice between retweeting the share-worthy take on whatever issue has everyone abuzz or letting it toil in social-media perpetuity. And if they do press the "retweet" button, then they have to decide between tacking on their own, original thought — to add to the conversation — and letting someone else's idea speak for itself. Decisions, decisions.
Is the internal debate worth it? Nope, says one new study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior. People get more out of whatever they're reading when they don't waste their time and energy passing it on to their followers.
The study involved two experiments, per the university press release. First, Chinese undergrad students had to read a series of messages on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. Researchers told half of the participants to read all the messages straight through. The other group, however, had the option of reposting each message before proceeding to the next. After participants reached the end, they took quizzes on what they'd read. The reposting group didn't exactly ace the quiz — they answered almost twice as many questions incorrectly as the other group. Even when they accurately recalled what the messages said, they often showed poor understanding of the information they'd regurgitated. Most notably, they recalled the messages they'd reposted worse than others.
Researchers attributed trouble retaining reposted news-nuggets to cognitive overload. In other words, the decision of whether or not to repost messages consumed mental resources that would have otherwise gone to retention and comprehension.
They then ran a second experiment to test their cognitive-overload hypothesis. This time, students had to read a New Scientist article, rather than a series of short messages. Half of the participants were told to finish the article without interruption while the remainder ceased reading intermittently to provide feedback. Echoing the results of the first experiment, the no-feedback group demonstrated stronger comprehension of the article.
So, consider holding your horses before retweeting coverage of current events that will change the geopolitical landscape (or might show up at your next trivia night). Otherwise, you run the risk of expanding other people's knowledge at the expense of your own. But, if you feel the impulse to disseminate less "urgent" musings, then go for it, unless you actually do want Kourtney Kardashian's overalls sitch burned onto your memory. (No judgment.)