What do you want to read

Would you prefer to like or read an article?

Occasionally in the forum the wish is expressed to be able to rate articles in the same way as postings with red and green lines. At the risk of some out now this Article here again disappointed get out: Such a like function is not planned in the foreseeable future.

However, it would also not be particularly desirable, according to a recent experiment by American researchers. At least not when you write a text with the intention that it will also be read. Because, according to the Ohio State University team, being able to like an article reduces the amount of time it takes to actually read it. The study was published in the journal "Computers in Human Behavior".

The experiment

The team of Daniel Sude, Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick and George Pearson used 235 college students as test subjects. Not a representative cross-section of the population, but members of a group who should have made reading flesh and blood. In advance, the researchers had already surveyed their attitudes to controversial topics, especially in the USA, such as gun control, abortions, welfare state benefits and affirmative action, i.e. positive discrimination.

These test subjects were presented with different versions of a specially crafted news website containing articles on the four subject areas. Half of the articles had a conservative spin, half a liberal spin. The headline and the first paragraphs could be seen - if you wanted to read on, you had to click on the article.

In addition, on two versions of the website a banner indicated that the articles could be rated positively or negatively, while on the other two versions it said that the rating function was "currently deactivated". Under these conditions, the researchers let the test subjects surf around the site as they pleased, but of course followed every activity closely.

The results

The first - not entirely surprising - finding from the experiment was that the test subjects took more time to write articles that reflected their opinion. The average reading time here was one and a half minutes, while it remained under a minute for articles with the opposite point of view.

However, the measurements also showed that when a like function was available, the reading time fell by seven percent. And in as many as twelve percent of the cases, articles were rated that had not even been clicked on - the heading and beginning had apparently already been sufficient. Reading carefully or wanting to learn something new was not a priority, according to Knobloch-Westerwick.


According to Sude, the explanation for this is quite simple: evaluating something is a form of expression - i.e. communicating something yourself. And whoever speaks cannot listen at the same time. The test subjects were then more focused on their own thoughts than on the content of the text they had read. "Instead of adding to the preoccupation with the webpage content, the real opportunity for interaction should detract from it."

A second round of surveys after the experiment brought another result that should not be surprising, but on closer inspection is somewhat sobering: In a "miraculous" way, both variants had led the test subjects to agree with the opinion they had before, felt empowered.

In the runs without a Like function, according to the researchers, this was due to the fact that the relevant articles were simply read more than those with a contrary opinion. But the variant with the option of evaluating it also meant that the respective opinion solidified - although less time was spent reading here. Even with limited or no input from the articles, the test subjects' attitudes became more extreme due to the possibility of liking, says Knobloch-Westerwick. These were "in an echo chamber with an inmate".

Express yourself

But what better way to deal with online news? Yes, says Sude - even if his suggestion sounds almost old-fashioned in times of ever shorter attention spans, instant indignation reflexes and (sometimes unnoticed) diving into filter bubbles: "Don't just press the Like button. Read the article and leave thoughtful comments that are more than just a positive or negative rating. "

But you are already doing that in the forum in its existing form ... (jdo, 25.10.2020)