Can digital media limit our thinking?

Washington : You may want to rethink using your tablets and laptops for reading as a new study has suggested that they may make you more inclined to focus on concrete details rather than interpreting information more abstractly.

The study conducted by Dartmouth’s Tiltfactor lab serves as another wake-up call to how digital media may be affecting our likelihood of using abstract thought.

The research tested the basic question: would processing the same information on a digital versus non-digital platform affect “construal levels”- the fundamental level of concreteness versus abstractness that people use in perceiving and interpreting behaviors, events and other informational stimuli.

“There has been a great deal of research on how digital platforms might be affecting attention, distractibility and mindfulness, and these studies build on this work, by focusing on a relatively understudied construct,” said team leader Geoff Kaufman.

“Given that psychologists have shown that construal levels can vastly impact outcomes such as self-esteem and goal pursuit, it’s crucial to recognize the role that digitization of information might be having on this important aspect of cognition,” he added.

“Compared to the widespread acceptance of digital devices, as evidenced by millions of apps, ubiquitous smartphones, and the distribution of iPads in schools, surprisingly few studies exist about how digital tools affect our understanding — our cognition. Knowing the affordances of digital technologies can help us design better software,” said Mary Flanagan.

“Sometimes, it is beneficial to foster abstract thinking, and as we know more, we can design to overcome the tendencies or deficits inherent in digital devices,” added Flanagan.

The study is published in the proceedings of ACM CHI ’16. (ANI)