Over a third of Brits feel stressed every day due to data overload

"44 per cent said this has affected their sleep and relationships with family, friends and colleagues 66 per cent find it easier to understand documents and stories that contain maps and graphics"

Aylesbury - September 29th 2015: Over 35 per cent of Brits are affected daily by debilitating stress from data overload, according to digital mapping and analytics specialist, Esri UK. Following a survey of 1,000 adults across the UK, Esri UK has found that many people 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 per cent) 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 per cent say they struggle to absorb the content. For many (44 per cent) the solution is to deliberately ignore communications that come in – with 14 per cent even hiding their device to avoid checking it.

Worryingly, just under half (45 per cent) say that the stress of data overload has affected either their sleep or relationships with family or colleagues, and over a third (35 per cent) 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 per cent of those surveyed saying they find maps or graphics easier to understand and digest than lots of text.

According to a study by Mindlab(1) involving scanned brainwaves, when tasks were presented visually, rather than using traditional text-based formats, individuals used around 20 per cent 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) comments: “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 (2).

“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 (3). 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 (4).This can explain the finding that a third of respondents felt anxious, fidgety and unable to relax as a result of data overload.

“Research has proven that by visually presenting information, data processing demands on the brain can be reduced.”

Stuart Bonthrone, Managing Director of Esri UK, adds: “We can all relate to the feeling of being overwhelmed by our constantly-connected culture. Communication is just a click of a button away and our news feeds are now almost instantaneous. As a result, we have to process ever-increasing amounts of information. Marketers, businesses and the media need to understand the pressure this is putting on individuals and seek new ways to present information. Visualising data is proven to be easier to digest, understand and recall. The phrase ‘a picture can tell a thousand words’ has never more true!”

Esri UK has created an interactive map which breaks down the percentage of people who are stressed by region: