06.03.2015 change 06.03.2015

Important things weigh more. At least that’s what we believe

Photo: Fotolia / Rafa Irusta Machin Photo: Fotolia / Rafa Irusta Machin

Whether or not we believe the data are important has an impact on how we estimate the weight of the medium on which they are stored - demonstrated psychologists from the Sopot branch of the University of Social Sciences and Humanities. We may significantly overestimate the weight of a normal USB flash drive, if we believe that it contains very important files.

Saving information to a USB flash drive does not change the physical weight of the medium. It does, however, change our idea of the weight of this object. This results from the research, on which reported the representatives of the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in a release sent to PAP.

Psychologists interpret that when estimating the weight of the carrier we evaluate its functionality and the importance of the information stored on it. So our ability to assess the weight may be affected by our current goals and psychological motives.

Previous studies have shown that we define books that we consider more valuable as heavier. Recent research conducted by the team of psychologists from Poland, the Netherlands and the United States have shown that we make the same mistake in assessing the weight of electronic data storage media. "The respondents have estimated the weight of an ordinary flash drive weighing about 10 g as an object matter weighing up to 100 g, if the data stored on it seemed useful to the respondent. We know where this comes from" - said Dr. Michał Parzuchowski, psychologist from the Sopot branch of the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, one of the research team members.

In one experiment, respondents estimating the weight of the medium were informed that it contained large company’s tax data for the last two years. In another scenario, the respondents were informed that the data were outdated, and yet another - that the USB memory stick was empty. Majority of the nearly 130 respondents assessed the memory stick with important and updated information as two times heavier and larger than the empty flash drive or the one containing old data. The same results were obtained for a hard drive. In the case of this medium weight was also significantly overestimated, if the data it contained were valuable for surveyed psychology students (notes from lectures in psychology vs. lectures in economics).

"Our research shows that when we are thinking about the importance of information we are also changing the weight of the medium. Virtual data stored on media such as memory sticks or flash drives are very abstract for us. Our estimation of their weight is affected by our knowledge of the nature of the data they contain. As a result, two aspects are important to us. The fact that we think about e-data in the spatial (physical) terms and the fact that we consider important information heavier" - explained Dr. Parzuchowski.

According to the researchers, this information can be a valuable clue for companies that develop and manufacture physical media. "Manufacturers should pay attention to the purpose of the device. Memory stick or hard drive that is too light can considered unworthy of storing important financial documents of a company, student’s thesis or family archive. Such media should be heavier than others" - said Dr. Parzuchowski. According to him, the very fact of physical weight can affect the perception of the validity of stored information.

The study was conducted by a team which included: Dr. Iris Schneider, Dr. Michał Parzuchowski, Prof. Bogdan Wojciszke, Prof. Norbert Schwarz and Dr. Sander Koole. The results were published in January in the journal "Frontiers in Psychology".

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