More than a third of Brits are suffering from debilitating stress as a result of data overload, according to digital mapping and analytics specialist, Esri UK.
Thirty-five per cent of 1,000 adults surveyed in the UK are struggling to process the vast amount of emails, news, social media posts and digital documents being thrown at them at work and in their personal lives — a consequence of being constantly connected.
Around two-thirds (61%) of those surveyed say that the need to read and keep track of information from too many sources is a major concern in their daily lives, and 34% say they struggle to absorb the content. For many (44%) the solution is to deliberately ignore communications that come in — with 14% even hiding their device to avoid checking it.
Worryingly, just under half (45%) say that the stress of data overload has affected either their sleep or relationships with family or colleagues, and over a third (35%) says that it makes them feel anxious, fidgety and unable to relax.
The research also reveals significant demand for information to be presented visually, with 60% of those surveyed saying they find maps or graphics easier to understand and digest than lots of text.
According to a study by Mindlab in 2012, involving scanned brainwaves, when tasks were presented visually, rather than using traditional text-based formats, individuals used around 20% less cognitive resources — meaning the brain works a lot less hard. As a result, during the tests individuals performed more efficiently and could remember more of the information when asked later.
Dr Dimitrios Tsivrikos, consumer and business psychologist at University College London (UCL), said: “It is unsurprising that, given the amount of data we are bombarded with on a daily basis, 34% of respondents were found to struggle to absorb all the content presented to them. When demands on the working memory exceed its capacity an overload occurs, which is detrimental to information comprehension.
“Paying attention to a vast amount of data requires multitasking, rapidly switching attention from one source to another, which has been found to increase levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Receiving novel information activates the brain’s reward pathway, which leads to a continuous cycle in which we are compelled to seek out more and more information, eventually resulting in a state of restlessness. This can explain the finding that a third of respondents felt anxious, fidgety and unable to relax as a result of data overload."