Mentally taxing social media. According to our latest social media research, mentally exhausted people are more likely to be affected by posts with a lot of likes, even to the extent of clicking on adverts for things they don’t need or want.
As an advertising professor, I have researched social media behavior for years. Eric Haley and I ran three online surveys on Americans aged 18-65 in late 2022 to explore how people under different mental burdens respond to commercials.
We showed each study’s control group an ad without an introduction task. A second group memorized a nine-digit number before viewing the ad. The third group scrolled Instagram for 30 seconds before viewing the ad. The first research employed a meal prep ad, the second ice cream, and the third coffee beans.
The only difference between groups was the number of likes. Participants randomly saw ads with hundreds or thousands of likes. After viewing the ad, participants rated their willingness to buy the product and how much mental effort it needed to process the information. The group who used Instagram first was more likely to buy the featured product when there were lots of likes or comments and spent the most mental effort to evaluate the ad.
“I was thinking of the ice cream flavors and how they would taste,” said the control group in one study when asked why they intended to buy a product. I enjoy the ad. Simple, clean. It’s direct…”
Those who had scrolled social media for 30 seconds often delivered incoherent answers. Some said “food” or “plate.” “It had too many words and options in the picture,” some said.
Researchers call this “cognitive overload.” Because you’re constantly assessing others’ text, photo, and video posts on social media, you’re in this state. You can view your spouse’s text, a coworker’s snapshot, a celebrity’s video, and your brother’s meme in seconds. Scrolling and assessing renders us disorganized.
Try asking your roommate for pizza. The roommate normally considers expense, hunger, timing, and schedule. Imagine asking your roommate the same question while they are on the phone with a sick relative after stepping in dog crap and receiving a text from their ex while realizing they are late for work. They are too exhausted to rationally consider pizza for dinner. They might shout “Yeah, sure!” while running inside to clean their shoes.
Except when a person has a lot of experience, history, or knowledge with the product or idea. They can then consider whether the marketed product will benefit them. Coffee bean ad testing proved this. Coffee aficionados usually evaluate bean type, roast level, origin, and more. Even in a haze, high-metric commercials didn’t convince them.
Understanding how social media influences them subconsciously can help customers regulate their use and avoid buying unnecessary water bottles.
The most depleting social networking networks are unknown.
TikTok, Instagram Reels, and YouTube are likely the most mentally difficult because they feature text, photographs, videos, animations, and sound, frequently all at once and overlapping. Brands spend a lot on these platforms because of their strong ROI.