Leah Walker and Zoë Brammer
Digital systems exploit and manipulate emotions by design. Emotions prompt people to use digital tools, engage with content, products, and services, respond to advertisements, stay on or return to digital platforms, and even take action offline as a result of online experience. The design of the digital environment, especially its visual nature, also heightens user emotions, often creating an addictive cycle. Because emotions affect how we process, engage with, and often act upon information, they play a central role in the relationship between digital tools and democracy.
The DCDI team’s research into the relationship between digital tools and emotions includes three key insights:
- Cognitive openings created as a result of difficult life events create a moment of vulnerability. When presented with something that feels like it could solve your emotional problem and give you a purpose, people are easily isolated and radicalized.
- In social networks, the processes of recognition and status negotiation are intertwined with emotions; the more someone likes/links to your posts, the higher you will be ranked and listed in news feeds. As Javier Serrano-Puche puts it, “Since sharing emotions is essential for creating and maintaining social ties, somehow the status of social networks revolves around the emotions and feelings that users express about themselves, but at the same time find resonance among their circle of contacts.”
- Digital technologies are affecting the cognitive processes that interact with emotional responses, including memory, attention, and reasoning.