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Is social media killing our ability to think?

According to a paper titled ‘Analytical reasoning task reveals limits of social learning in networks’ published in The Journal of the Royal Society Interface last week, social networks make us less able to think analytically.

Through a set of laboratory-based experiments, its authors – Iyad Rahwan, Dmytro Krasnoshtan, Azim Shariff and Jean-François Bonnefon – found that social learning fails to cultivate the human mind’s ability to engage analytical reasoning. According to the paper’s abstract, “When people make false intuitive conclusions and are exposed to the analytic output of their peers, they recognize and adopt this correct output. But they fail to engage analytical reasoning in similar subsequent tasks.”

This, say the authors, shows that humans exhibit an “unreflective copying bias”, limiting their learning to what their peers are saying rather than the reasoning behind it – even when the effort and skill required is minimal.

In effect, social networks are creating a generation of copycats unable to engage in analytical reasoning. Every like, share, retweet and +1, perpetuates this limiting behaviour, making us appear smart yet actually making us less so.

Yet in a world obsessed by superficiality, celebrity and fame, I doubt many will care.