Information Overload Makes You Dumb

This may sound like a no-brainer, but a couple of new studies report that people suffer a drop in their thinking ability when they experience information overload.

Dumb One recent study at Kansas State University reported that the MTV-inspired scrolling tickers and headlines on television screens reduced the ability of people to remember information by 10 percentage points.

Another study reported that people who were bombarded by email and phone calls suffered an IQ drop of 10 points – double the drop in IQ that has been attributed to marijuana.

The smarter solution? Strip away the distractions and aim for simplicity.

Richard E. Mayer’s research in multimedia learning reports that when interesting but irrelevant words and pictures were removed from a multimedia presentation, people experienced a median 189 percent improvement in remembering the information.

Although we currently appear to be a culture on its way to dumbing down, the smart money will go next to an inevitable counter-trend toward simplicity.

An interesting thought from KSU professor Tom Grimes:

"The human brain is today as it was in the 1880s, the 1580s and in the time of the Greeks and Romans. It has not changed.  We are no better able to parallel process conflicting information than we were 300 years ago."

If the brain has not changed, it is we who have mistakenly assumed that we gain something from "razzle dazzle". Instead, we need to accept that there’s "no there there" beneath the glitz, and that if we simplify we only have our intelligence to gain (back).

Tip: Simple is smart, overload is dumb.

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9 Responses to “Information Overload Makes You Dumb”

  1. Simplify, simplify, simplify!

    Cliff Atkinson posts a good reminder about the power of simplicity: Information Overload Makes You Dumb….

  2. On Simplicity

    Cliff Atkinson writes on the cognitive impact of distraction and processing overload. I blogged some related news (one on the same study) here, here and here.

    Listen to the man. It’s about focus. It really is very simple….

  3. Simplify, simplify, simplify!

    Cliff Atkinson posts a good reminder about the power of simplicity: Information Overload Makes You Dumb. Update: Conn McQuinn mentions a related story that has been making the blog-rounds. I’m linking to this mostly because I like Conn’s title: IQ dama…

  4. Craig says:

    I agree with the simpliflication concept. It is one I used to great effect in the software world. I forget the author, maybe Brian Kernighan or Dennis Ritche, but the quote is “You can build a complex system from simple parts but you cannot create a simple system from complex parts.” Information and thinking probably follow the same axiom.

  5. cliff says:

    Great quote, Craig.

  6. nick says:

    Nice articles, and I agree. Craig posted a very nice quote as well which is very true. It is important to remember that the human mind works and processes information through a network of binary oppositions. Binary oppositions being good and bad etc. Advertising at least subconciously is attempting to sway you one way or the other. Emotions and varied responses are only distortions or degrees of the human minds basic framework. Effective advertising for instance might be actually more effective if it targets an audience in a more simplistic way. In doing so it strips away possible distractions that one may encounter through “information overload” or advertising that is becomes mpre complex. It also may be effective in that it would distinguish itself from the saturation of multi-media that is so common and “popular” today.

  7. nick says:

    Nice articles, and I agree. Craig posted a very nice quote as well which is very true. It is important to remember that the human mind works and processes information through a network of binary oppositions. Binary oppositions being good and bad etc. Advertising at least subconciously is attempting to sway you one way or the other. Emotions and varied responses are only distortions or degrees of the human minds basic framework. Effective advertising for instance might be actually more effective if it targets an audience in a more simplistic way. In doing so it strips away possible distractions that one may encounter through “information overload” or advertising that is becomes mpre complex. It also may be effective in that it would distinguish itself from the saturation of multi-media that is so common and “popular” today.

  8. cliff says:

    Great points, Nick. While watching TV I’ll often ask someone with me, “What company was that last ad for?”, and more often than not, no one can remember even though it was only a few seconds before…

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