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Postdoctoral Researcher, MIT Sloan School of Management
Digital Fingerprints of Cognitive Reflection
Mohsen Mosleh, Gordon Pennycook, Antonio Arechar, and David Rand
Social media is playing an increasingly large role in everyday life. Thus, it is of both scientific and practical interest to understand behavior on social media platforms. Furthermore, social media provides a unique window for social scientists to deepen our understanding of the human mind. Here we investigate the relationship between individual differences in cognitive reflection and behavior on Twitter in a sample of large N = 1,953 users recruited via Prolific Academic. In doing so, we differentiate between two competing accounts of human information processing: an “intuitionist” account whereby reflection plays little role in daily life, and a “reflectionist” account whereby reflection (and, in particular, overriding intuitive responses) does play an important role. We found that people who score higher on the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT) – a widely used measure of reflective thinking – were more discerning in their social media use: They followed more selectively, shared news content from more reliable sources, and tweeted about weightier subjects. Furthermore, a network analysis indicated that the phenomenon of echo chambers, in which discourse is more likely with like-minded others, is not limited to politics: we observe “cognitive echo chambers” in which people low on cognitive reflection tend to follow the same set of accounts. Our results help to illuminate the drivers of behavior on social media platforms, and challenge intuitionist notions that reflective thinking is unimportant for everyday judgment and decision-making.