How does Acute Technostress Influence our Decision Making Behavior
Digital technologies are a central part of our daily lives. How important they have become was demonstrated in October 2021 when the online services of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp went down for around six hours. In the days that followed, more than half of the participants of a survey reported that the outage had led to negative feelings like boredom or frustration. In contrast, about one-third of respondents reported positive feelings like relief or relaxation during the outage.
Digital technologies thus affect our emotional state and, potentially, even well-being and cognitive performance. This, for instance, was shown in a study by Duke and colleagues. Participants were asked to complete cognitive tasks while they had to either place their smartphone next to them at the table, put it in their pocket, or keep it in a separate room. The closer the participants had their smartphone, the worse they performed when completing the tasks. So even if we're not using our smartphone, we're focusing some of our attention on it.
Both study results are indications of a phenomenon called technostress. This term was already coined in 1984, long before the time of the Internet and the smartphone. Nevertheless, even at the time, researchers recognized that exposure to new technology can affect us physiologically and psychologically alike. And although research on this topic has been ongoing for about 40 years, it is still largely unclear whether and how technostress affects our decision-making behavior.
In a master thesis, NIM, together with the Chair of Health Psychology at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, conducted an experiment to investigate this question. Participants were asked to complete decision-making tasks on the computer. Half of the participants were exposed to so-called stressors (in our study, a multitude of interruptions by pop-up windows). During the study, heart rate and cortisol level (and thus stress level) were measured.
- Heart rate measurements showed a significant increase in stress level in the group exposed to the stressors.
- However, according to self-report, these participants did not feel more stressed than those in the group without stressors.
- This indicates that humans seem to be already accustomed to technology-related interruptions that they no longer feel stressed, even though physiological measurements show that we are stressed.
- Technostress had no effect on decision-making behavior in the study. Stressed participants did not make significantly different decisions than the participants without stress.