Smartphones May Limit Understanding Of News Content
Screen size matters when it comes to understanding news content, a new study from Texas A&M University shows.
Johanna Dunaway, an associate professor in the Department of Communication, is the lead author of the study of how smartphone-sized screens affect cognitive access to video news stories. Dunaway’s research, conducted with Stuart Soroka of the University of Michigan, indicates that screen size affects the ability to process new information from video news.
“Our study and results are significant because they provide an important distinction between physical and cognitive access to information,” Dunaway said. “It points out that the positive aspects of widening internet access via smartphones may be offset by information processing constraints imposed by smaller screens.”
The results of the study showed that watching video news on smaller screens is associated with lower cognitive engagement with the video content, indicated by a decreased heart rate variability and weakened skin conductance responses.
Physical availability of affordable, functional smartphones is increasing globally, and more people have access to information via the internet than ever before. As a result, people are relying more on mobile devices with internet access to stay informed and entertained.
“People are relying heavily on these devices for information while being unaware of the subtle but limiting cognitive processing differences imposed by small screens,” Dunaway said. “We highlight the potentially countervailing effects of mobile technology, while also providing a framework for understanding how it increases one form of access to news and political information even as it reduces another.”
Dunaway said these results have important implications for everyday life.
“It’s important for people to be aware of these differences, especially in places where many people are mobile-dependent for access to the internet,” she said. “It’s also important for news organizations to be aware of the differences small screens make for the engagement of their audiences. As they scramble to adapt to the mobile environment, it will be important for news outlets to find ways to optimize engagement as much as possible on small screens.”