June 24, 2021

How YouTube’s algorithms exploit our cognitive flaws


DECRYPTION – Researchers in psychology decipher the tricks used to push us to watch more and more content.

We don’t need a global conspiracy to manipulate us. The recommendation algorithms of the web giants are brilliantly responsible for exposing us to selected content so that we always consume more: nearly three quarters of the content viewed on YouTube is suggested videos! Among their tools, the “dark pattern”, which can be translated by “obscurs paths” (most literally) or “rigged interface” (in Quebec). These are Machiavellian weapons designed to exploit the flaws in our cognition …

“On YouTube, the first dark pattern used is the infinite thread of videos, explains Séverine Erhel, lecturer in cognitive psychology and ergonomics at Rennes-II University. It takes user action to obstruct the process that the algorithm sets up, otherwise the videos scroll without stopping. ” Absorbed by the flow of images, the user will be reluctant to stop it. Especially since a phenomenon called “hyperbolic discount” is set up:

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