"Liking" an article online may mean less time spent reading it

September 30, 2020

COLUMBUS, Ohio - When people have the option to click "like" on a media article they encounter online, they spend less time actually reading the text, a new study suggests.

In a lab experiment, researchers found that people spent about 7 percent less time reading articles on controversial topics when they had the opportunity to upvote or downvote them than if there was no interactive element.

The finding was strongest when an article agreed with the reader's point of view.

The results suggest that the ability to interact with online content may change how we consume it, said Daniel Sude, who led the work while earning a doctoral degree in communication at The Ohio State University.

"When people are voting whether they like or dislike an article, they're expressing themselves. They are focused on their own thoughts and less on the content in the article," Sude said.

"It is like the old phrase, 'If you're talking, you're not listening.' People were talking back to the articles without listening to what they had to say."

In another finding, people's existing views on controversial topics like gun control or abortion became stronger after voting on articles that agreed with their views, even when they spent less time reading them.

"Just having the ability to like an article you agreed with was enough to amplify your attitude," said study co-author Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, professor of communication at Ohio State.

"You didn't need to read the article carefully, you didn't have to learn anything new, but you are more committed to what you already believed."

The study, also co-authored by former Ohio State doctoral student George Pearson, was published online recently in the journal Computers in Human Behavior and will appear in the January 2021 print edition.

The study involved 235 college students. Before the study, the researchers measured their views on four controversial topics used in the experiment: abortion, welfare benefits, gun control and affirmative action.

Participants were then showed four versions of an online news website created for the study, each on one of the controversial topics. Each webpage showed headlines and first paragraphs for four articles, two with a conservative slant and two with a liberal slant. Participants could click on the headlines to read the full stories.

Two versions of the websites had a banner that said, "Voting currently enabled for this topic," and each article had an up arrow or down arrow that participants could click on to express their opinion.

The other two websites had a banner that said, "Voting currently disabled for this topic."

Participants were given three minutes to browse each website as they wished, although they were not told about the time limit. The researchers measured the time participants spent on each story and whether they voted if they had the opportunity.

As expected, for each website, participants spent more time reading articles that agreed with their views (about 1.5 minutes) than opposing views (less than a minute).

But they spent about 12 seconds less time reading the articles they agreed with if they could vote.

In addition, people voted on about 12 percent of articles that they didn't select to read, the study showed.

"Rather than increasing engagement with website content, having the ability to interact may actually distract from it," Sude said.

The researchers measured the participants' views on the four topics again after they read the websites to see if their attitudes had changed at all.

Results showed that when participants were not able to vote, time spent reading articles that agreed with their original views strengthened these views. The more time they spent reading, the stronger their views became.

When participants were able to vote, their voting behavior was as influential as their reading time. Even if they stopped reading and upvoted an article, their attitudes still became stronger.

"It is important that people's views still became stronger by just having the opportunity to vote, Knobloch-Westerwick said.

"When they had the opportunity to vote on the articles, their attitudes were getting more extreme with limited or no input from the articles themselves. They were in an echo chamber of one."

Sude said there is a better way to interact with online news.

"Don't just click the like button. Read the article and leave thoughtful comments that are more than just a positive or negative rating," he said.

"Say why you liked or disliked the article. The way we express ourselves is important and can influence the way we think about an issue."
Contact: Daniel Sude, Sude.2@osu.edu

Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, Knobloch-Westerwick.1@osu.edu

Written by Jeff Grabmeier, 614-292-8457; Grabmeier.1@osu.edu

Ohio State University

Related Reading Articles from Brightsurf:

"Liking" an article online may mean less time spent reading it
When people have the option to click ''like'' on a media article they encounter online, they spend less time actually reading the text, a new study suggests.

Busy pictures hinder reading ability in children
A new study published by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University shows extraneous images draw attention from text, reducing comprehension in beginning readers

Reading in company boosts creativity
Language has evolved as a consequence of social interaction; however, most research is conducted with participants in isolation.

Complex phonological tests are useful for diagnosing reading dysfunction
HSE University researchers have confirmed that the level of phonological processing skills in children can impact their ability to master reading.

From scaffolding to screens: Understanding the developing brain for reading
In the debate about nature versus nurture for developing reading skills, cognitive neuroscientists have a clear message: both matter.

'Reading' with aphasia is easier than 'running'
Neurolinguists from HSE University have confirmed experimentally that for people with aphasia, it is easier to retrieve verbs describing situations with several participants (such as 'someone is doing something'), although such verbs give rise to more grammar difficulties.

Hearing through lip-reading
Brain activity synchronizes with sound waves, even without audible sound, through lip-reading, according to new research published in JNeurosci.

Here's how you help kids crack the reading code
Some children learn to read early. Others need more time.

Cerebral reperfusion of reading network predicts recovery of reading ability after stroke
'Our findings support the utility of cerebral perfusion as a biomarker for recovery after stroke,' said Dr.

A lack of background knowledge can hinder reading comprehension
The purpose of going to school is to learn, but students may find certain topics difficult to understand if they don't have the necessary background knowledge.

Read More: Reading News and Reading Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.