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Perspect Psychol Sci. 2018 Nov 29:1745691618803647. doi: 10.1177/1745691618803647. [Epub ahead of print]

The Dark Side of Information Proliferation.

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Department of Psychology, University of Warwick.


There are well-understood psychological limits on our capacity to process information. As information proliferation-the consumption and sharing of information-increases through social media and other communications technology, these limits create an attentional bottleneck, favoring information that is more likely to be searched for, attended to, comprehended, encoded, and later reproduced. In information-rich environments, this bottleneck influences the evolution of information via four forces of cognitive selection, selecting for information that is belief-consistent, negative, social, and predictive. Selection for belief-consistent information leads balanced information to support increasingly polarized views. Selection for negative information amplifies information about downside risks and crowds out potential benefits. Selection for social information drives herding, impairs objective assessments, and reduces exploration for solutions to hard problems. Selection for predictive patterns drives overfitting, the replication crisis, and risk seeking. This article summarizes the negative implications of these forces of cognitive selection and presents eight warnings that represent severe pitfalls for the naive "informavore," accelerating extremism, hysteria, herding, and the proliferation of misinformation.


attention economics; evolution; misinformation; social proof; social risk amplification


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