Doctor of Philosophy
What makes public addresses such as online talks successful vs. not? Across seven field and lab studies, I find that information overload hurts consumer adoption. The cause? Processing disfluency. Information overload makes a message more difficult to process, which in turn reduces liking and interest. The effect disappears among audience members with greater need for cognition, a personality trait marking a penchant for deep and broad information-processing. My empirical investigation concludes by documenting the counter-intuitiveness of the findings (i.e., how consumers mispredict which talks they actually (dis)like). From these results, I derive insights for (i) the psychology of adoption, and (ii) communicators of all creeds wishing to broaden their reach and appeal (e.g., professors, politicians, journalists, scientists, bloggers, podcasters).
Summary for Lay Audience
The recent emergence of online mediums, consumer blogs, and mobile apps has overwhelmed consumers with an enormous amount of information to process every day. The amount of presented information to individuals is usually more than they can process. The same issue can happen within a single message: The more topics covered in a message, the more difficult processing it will be. This difficulty in processing will make the recipients of said message like it less and be less likely to share and propagate it. In this research, I examine the problem of information overload in the context of online recorded video messages (i.e., TED talks). I find that talks covering numerous topics are liked less and viewed less.
Moreover, I show that people learn less from talks covering numerous topics. This happens because the audience of such addresses finds it more difficult and more complicated to process. However, I show that said effect does not occur among individuals who inherently enjoy thinking. Therefore, the negative impact of information overload also depends on specific individual differences. The limits on our information processing resources will cause a cognitive selection process that will determine the evolution of information similar to the process of biological selection. If a message exceeds its audience's processing limits, it is not likely to be shared and re-shared. Therefore, I hope that my findings help public speakers and researchers who wish to communicate their message, do so more effectively.
Sepehri, Amir, "Ideas Worth Spreading? Adverse Effects of Information Load in Online Communications" (2021). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 7815.
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Available for download on Sunday, June 04, 2023