Sharing news articles with friends and followers on social media can prompt people to think they know more about the articles’ topics than they actually do, according to a new study from researchers at The University of Texas at Austin.
Social media sharers believe that they are knowledgeable about the content they share, even if they have not read it or have only glanced at a headline. Sharing can create this rise in confidence because by putting information online, sharers publicly commit to an expert identity. Doing so shapes their sense of self, helping them to feel just as knowledgeable as their post makes them seem.
This is especially true when sharing with close friends, according to a new paper from Susan M. Broniarczyk, professor of marketing, and Adrian Ward, assistant professor of marketing, at UT’s McCombs School of Business.
The research is online in advance in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. The findings are relevant in a world in which it’s simple to share content online without reading it. Recent data from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism show only 51% of consumers who “read” an online news story actually read the whole article, while 26% read part, and 22% looked at just the headline or a few lines.
Broniarczyk, Ward and Frank Zheng, a McCombs marketing doctoral alum, conducted several studies that support their theory. In an initial one, the researchers presented 98 undergraduate students with a set of online news articles and told them they were free to read, share, or do both as they saw fit. Headlines included “Why Does Theatre Popcorn Cost So Much” and “Red Meats Linked to Cancer.”
Next, they measured participants’ subjective and objective knowledge for each article — what the students thought they knew, and what they actually knew. Reading articles led to increases in both objective and subjective knowledge. Sharing articles also predicted increases in subjective knowledge — even when students had not read what they chose to share, and thus lacked objective knowledge about the articles’ content.
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