Research Lead: Mistaking Google’s Knowledge for Your Own, Oversimplifying Effects of Tech, Scientists ‘Donate’ a lot of Time to Journal Publishers, and More

You’re reading the Research Lead, a monthly digest connecting you to noteworthy academic and applied research from around the behavioral sciences.

“People mistake the internet’s knowledge for their own”

“Eight experiments (n = 1,917) provide evidence that when people ‘Google’ for online information, they fail to accurately distinguish between knowledge stored internally—in their own memories—and knowledge stored externally—on the internet. Relative to those using only their own knowledge, people who use Google to answer general knowledge questions are not only more confident in their ability to access external information; they are also more confident in their own ability to think and remember. Moreover, those who use Google predict that they will know more in the future without the help of the internet, an erroneous belief that both indicates misattribution of prior knowledge and highlights a practically important consequence of this misattribution: overconfidence when the internet is no longer available.” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; open access)

Don’t oversimplify the effects of tech and social media. They’re still complicated. 

The set of studies above shows how our cognitive and technological worlds are merging, but what happens when we limit the technologies that we so frequently use? A new working paper tried to disentangle the effects of restricting digital media versus restricting only social media use. The researchers recruited several hundred college students, a demographic with high digital and social media use, to participate in an eight-day study. Previous research has often focused on the effects of limiting smartphone use in only a particular moment, say at dinner with family. In the relevant treatment conditions, participants either restricted the use of their smartphones to things like GPS or restricted just their social media use. Those who restricted their digital use overall experienced benefits like higher life satisfaction, mindfulness, autonomy, competence, and self-esteem versus those who just restricted social media use. Interestingly, neither condition improved emotional well-being or depression when compared to the controls. This research undermines the straightforward narrative that more tech equals less happiness; it’s increasingly apparent that technology’s effects are deeply complex. (Working paper)

Editor’s note: both of the above studies remind me of this illustrated story by psychologist Danny Oppenheimer and illustrator Grady Klein. Snapshot below, view the full story here.

Language as a portal into ourselves

How can analyzing language help us understand ourselves? A new article in Perspectives on Psychological Science details the history of language analyses, summarizes the tools, methods, and databases now available, and points to what the future might hold for this type of research. For those looking to better understand language analysis as a method, this is, in the authors’ words, a “one-stop shop.” One thing that caught my eye is the growing list of text analysis corpora available to analyze (see table below). (Perspectives on Psychological Science)

Understanding the gender gap in elected positions

Women hold only 26 percent of elected positions in legislatures around the world. A new paper tries to get to the bottom of this gender disparity. The authors conducted a meta-analysis of 67 studies that employed a political science method known as candidate choice surveys. In these studies, participants evaluate whether they’d vote for a hypothetical candidate, with gender a factor that’s often randomized to allow researchers to understand what effect it might have on a candidate’s appeal. What did their analysis reveal? “Overall, our findings offer evidence against demand-side explanations of the gender gap in politics,” they write. “Rather than discriminating against women who run for office, voters on average appear to reward women. What then explains the persistent gender gap in politics across the globe?” they ask. They point to the supply-side for possible explanations. These factors, which political scientists are investigating, include things like “gendered differences in political ambition, party structures, donor preferences, candidate recruitment, and differences in opportunity costs.” (The Journal of Politics; open access)

Pay attention to the ripple effects of nudges

In a brief commentary, Cass Suntein lays out why it’s important to pay attention to the effects of nudges on different groups. He writes: “The broadest lesson is that in evaluating nudges, it is essential for researchers, and for those in the public and private sectors, to consider their distributional effects and to focus in particular on questions of distributive justice. They should ask specific questions: (1) who is likely to be helped, and who is likely to be hurt? (2) What are the expected effects on the least well-off? Will the relevant nudges benefit those who are most in need of help? (3) Do the benefits to those who are helped exceed the costs to those who are hurt? In some cases, answers to those questions will actually strengthen the argument for nudges; in other cases, such answers will weaken that argument; and in still other cases, such answers will raise a set of new issues, normative and empirical. The most important implication might well involve the value of shifting towards more targeted or personalized nudging, which can often produce higher welfare benefits, and be far better on distributional grounds, than ‘mass’ approaches.” (Nature Human Behaviour)

Right on time

A recent duo of experiments involving over 35,000 Americans found that those with too little or too much discretionary time had lower subjective well-being. In other words, like money, having more and more and more does not automatically translate into great and greater well-being. Why would having too much time to spend on the activities you like doing result in less well-being? The authors point to one possible explanation: that “having too much discretionary time undermines people’s sense of productivity and purpose, thus leaving them less satisfied overall.” However, the authors “found that if people spent their discretionary time in worthwhile ways—on productive or social activities—the negative effect of having too much time was attenuated.” (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology)

Scientists “donated” 100 million hours of their time to journal publishers last year
Academic journals are expensive to access. You might see a paywall of $45 to access a single article. They’re also expensive to produce. But the companies that run the journals don’t pay many of the scientists who work on them. A recent article attempted to estimate the value of the free labor scientists performed for journals in one year (2020). The estimate is staggering: more than 100 million hours, which comes out to about fifteen thousand years and over a billion dollars worth of time. (Research Integrity and Peer Review)