Social Media Can Influence You to Buy Stuff You Don’t Need, Study Shows

In Education

Recent studies show that social media can be mentally draining and influence individuals to click on ads for products they don’t require or desire, particularly when feeling mentally exhausted. Advertising professor and researcher Eric Haley conducted three online studies on American adults between the ages of 18 and 65 to evaluate how people under different mental loads respond to ads differently.

Social media makes people click ads for things they don’t want

The studies had three groups: one just looked at an ad, another had to memorize a nine-digit number before looking at it, and the third scrolled through their Instagram feed for 30 seconds before viewing the ad. Each study featured a different ad: meal prep service, ice cream, and coffee beans.

In the study, participants were shown an advertisement with varying numbers of likes. They rated their willingness to purchase the product and the amount of mental effort required to process the information. Those who used Instagram more frequently were more likely to want to buy the product and put more mental effort into evaluating the ad when it had many likes.

The study found that people who had just scrolled through social media for 30 seconds had difficulty giving coherent reasons for wanting to buy a product. The control group gave simple, rational answers, while the social media group gave nonsensical answers or found it difficult to process the product’s information.

Social media causes “cognitive overload”

Social media can cause “cognitive overload,” a state of mental exhaustion due to constantly evaluating different types of content from various people. Scrolling and evaluating photos, video posts, and texts in seconds can leave one feeling frazzled and scattered. This can be compared to asking a roommate if they want pizza under normal versus mentally exhausted conditions, where the latter may lead to an impulsive response.

Experienced individuals can assess if they will benefit from an advertised product, as seen in the experiment with coffee beans. Coffee lovers consider multiple factors and are not swayed by high-metric ads even when in a mental fog.

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