Information Overwhelm Symptoms


  • Distraction
  • Multi-tasking (continuous partial attention)
  • Constant anxiety (low level panic and guilt)
  • FOMO
  • Decision fatigue
  • Learned helplessness
  • Guilt
  • Shiny Object Syndrome
  • Procrastination / Paralyzed / Freezing
  • Feeling threatened (new entrants)
  • Insecure one’s standing and relevance
  • Jealousy (mimesis) - social media is accelerating the desire
  • Feeling behind
  • Insomnia
  • Hurriedness / Time pressure
  • Addiction (needing constant stimulation)
  • Lowered well-being
  • Feeling out of control
  • “We feel like cogs in an information machine as it grinds away with no shut-off button.”
  • Sense of ambiguity or uncertainty (Eley et al., 2008, pp. 55-65
  • Chronically talking about not keeping up with what’s going on around you.
  • Giving time or attention to news that has no cultural, economic, or scientific effect on your life.
  • Nodding your head knowingly when someone mentions a book, an artist or a news story that you have never heard of before.
  • Being too afraid or too embarrassed to say, “I don’t know”

Symptoms At End Of Day

  • Anxiety
  • Tired
  • Attention Residue



Inefficiency / Unproductivity

  • Continuous partial attention

Less time for reflection

Another important finding was that individuals experiencing higher levels of cyber-based overload devoted significantly less time to contemplative activities as compared with those reporting lower levels of cyber-based overload —Study: Psychological and Health Outcomes of Perceived Information Overload

Chronic Stress & Health

Higher levels of cyber-based overload predicted higher levels of perceived stress, controlling for other stressful life events, baseline measures of perceived stress, age, gender, and ethnicity. Similarly, individuals experiencing higher levels of cyber-based overload report poorer health status in terms of the frequency and severity of health problems and their subjective feelings about their overall health, controlling for stressful life events and baseline measures of health status.

"People in lab coats have examined some scary properties of this type of negative pangs on the neural system (the usual expected effect: high blood pressure; the less expected: chronic stress leads to memory loss, lessening of brain plasticity, and brain damage). To my knowledge there are no studies investigating the exact properties of trader’s burnout, but a daily exposure to such high degrees of randomness without much control will have physiological effects on humans (nobody studied the effect of such exposure on the risk of cancer). What economists did not understand for a long time about positive and negative kicks is that both their biology and their intensity are different. Consider that they are mediated in different parts of the brain—and that the degree of rationality in decisions made subsequent to a gain is extremely different from the one after a loss." —Nassim Taleb

Changes to the brain

Multi-Tasking Leads Brain Becoming Worse At Filtering

In other words, high media multitaskers had difficulty filtering out irrelevant information, and instead distributed their attention almost equally to both relevant and irrelevant items (Ophir et al., 2009). This finding suggests that these individuals, relative to low media multitaskers, tend to rely more on a breadth‐biased form of cognitive control or bottom‐up attention processes (i.e., attention driven by salient events in the environment instead of voluntarily set top‐down goals; Cain & Mitroff, 2011; Lin, 2009). When bottom‐up attention mechanisms dominate, distractibility increases, translating into a decreased ability to maintain selective attention and impairments in goal‐directed activities (Kanai, Dong, Bahrami, & Rees, 2011).
This study also found that the tendency to engage in media multitasking was most strongly associated with personality traits of impulsivity and sensation seeking, and was inversely related to measures of executive control. Similarly, Minear, Brasher, McCurdy, Lewis, and Younggren (2013) found that high media multitaskers reported being more impulsive than low media multitaskers, and exhibited lower levels of fluid intelligence. At the same time, they found no experimental evidence that high media multitaskers were deficient in their ability to suppress task‐irrelevant information (Minear et al., 2013)
It is important to note, however, that such results remain correlational and do not speak to the issue of causality. That is, media multitasking may not necessarily lead to detrimental changes in cognitive control, but rather could reflect a propensity for those individuals with a better capacity for distributing attention to be more likely to engage in media multitasking behaviors (Sanbonmatsu et al., 2013).

  • Chronic Fatigue
  • Depression

Poor Decision-Making

  • Emotionally triggered
  • Cognitive biasese
  • Bad information

The Costs


  • Mental health problems associated with overload, which may cause physical symptoms, include attention deficit trait (Hallowell 2005), and cognitive overload (Kirsch 2000).
  • Kominiarczuk and Ledinska (2014) : people with a high level of information overload will experience lowered well-being, and the more information stress someone feels the less happy they are with their life.
  • The idea of information anxiety was introduced by Wurman in 1989; for later treatment, see Wurman (2001), Girard and Allison (2008), and Hartog (2017). It is a condition of stress caused by worries about the ability to find, access, understand, or use necessary information.
  • Poor physical health, high perceived stress (e.g., Misra and Stokols, 2012)
  • Poor memory recall (Peavler, 1974), among others.
  • Impaired decision making

Hierarchical regression analyses indicated that higher levels of perceived cyber-based overload significantly predicted self-reports of greater stress, poorer health, and less time devoted to contemplative activities, controlling for age, gender, ethnicity, and baseline measures of stress and health status.

Consequences of overload have been enumerated by many writers. Eppler and Mengis (2004) give a detailed list of observed consequences in management disciplines to the early years of the millennium, categorized as: limited information search and retrieval strategies, arbitrary information analysis and organization; suboptimal decisions; and strenuous personal circumstances. They will now be summarized under three headings: effects on health; inefficiency; misinformation and fake news. —Study: Information Overload - An Overview

Nassim Taleb has good writing on how more data can lead to more bias (mainstream news) and also how big data can lead to more misleading patterns.

Another is Spier (2016), who examines overload using the ideas of Horkheiner and Adorno, concluding that overload is a feature of a capitalist culture industry, whereby "the increase in standardised cultural messages in the media leaves individuals with fewer capacities for reflection and critical thinking" (p.394), and whereby individuals are active agents in their own overloading, in that they actively consume more information artefacts than they can interpret or understand.

Overwhelming people and causing them not to pay attention to media

Reinventing the wheel rather than building on top of other people's knowledge

Various psychological conditions have been described associated with this, such as

  • Continuous partial attention [12], a focus on being “in touch” and “connected” which results in stress
  • Atention deficit trait [13], a distractability and impatience due to too much mental stimulus.
  • Kirsch [14] identifies a condition of cognitive overload, when information overload is added to multitasking and interruptions, while West [15] identifies overload as a contributor to technostress in library settings.


A widely-noted Reuters report, based on a survey of 1,300 business managers worldwide, and dramatically entitled Dying for Information, revealed a number of startling statistics (Lewis 1996). [17]: • two thirds of managers believed information overload had caused loss of job satisfaction • two thirds believed it had damaged their personal relationships • one third believed it had damaged their health • nearly half believed important decisions were delayed and adversely affected as a result of having too much information


It slows us down The root of the problem is that our brain is best designed to focus on one task at a time. When we switch between tasks, especially complex ones, we become startlingly less efficient: in a recent study, for example, participants who completed tasks in parallel took up to 30 percent longer and made twice as many errors as those who completed the same tasks in sequence. The delay comes from the fact that our brains can’t successfully tell us to perform two actions concurrently.4 When we switch tasks, our brains must choose to do so, turn off the cognitive rules for the old task, and turn on the rules for the new one. This takes time, which reduces productivity, particularly for heavy multitaskers—who, it seems, take even longer to switch between tasks than occasional multitaskers.5 In practice, most of us would probably acknowledge that multitasking lets us quickly cross some of the simpler items off our to-do lists. But it rarely helps us solve the toughest problems we’re working on. More often than not, it’s procrastination in disguise. It hampers creativity One might think that constant exposure to new information at least makes us more creative. Here again, the opposite seems to be true. Teresa Amabile and her colleagues at the Harvard Business School evaluated the daily work patterns of more than 9,000 individuals working on projects that required creativity and innovation. They found that the likelihood of creative thinking is higher when people focus on one activity for a significant part of the day and collaborate with just one other person. Conversely, when people have highly fragmented days—with many activities, meetings, and discussions in groups—their creative thinking decreases significantly.6 These findings also make intuitive sense. Creative problem solving typically requires us to hold several thoughts at once “in memory,” so we can sense connections we hadn’t seen previously and forge new ideas. When we bounce around quickly from thought to thought, we know we’re less likely to make those crucial connections. It makes us anxious and it’s addictive In laboratory settings, researchers have found that subjects asked to multitask show higher levels of stress hormones.7 A survey of managers conducted by Reuters revealed that two-thirds of respondents believed that information overload had lessened job satisfaction and damaged their personal relationships. One-third even thought it had damaged their health.8 Nonetheless, evidence is emerging that humans can become quite addicted to multitasking. Edward Hallowell and John Ratey from Harvard, for instance, have written about people for whom feeling connected provides something like a “dopamine squirt”—the neural effects follow the same pathways used by addictive drugs.9 This effect is familiar too: who hasn’t struggled against the urge to check the smart phone when it vibrates, even when we’re in the middle of doing something else? —McKinsey

  • Information overload is a decisive factor driving negative “work environments [that] are killing productivity, dampening creativity, and making us unhappy” (Dean and Webb 2011).
  • Losses arising directly or indirectly from information overload are estimated at $650 billion worldwide each year (Lohr 2007)—an amount that equals the gross domestic product of Switzerland in 2015 (United Nations Statistic Division 2016).
  • However, a quarter century after interest in information load research peaked, the information load of managers in day-to-day operations has quadrupled.
  • Shenk (1997) described this phenomenon as data smog, the “muck and druck of the information age” (Shenk 1997, p. 31).