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Forgetting workplace information can be a good thing, study shows

Forgetting workplace information can be a good thing, study shows. Due to globalization and digitalization, workplaces and business dealings have grown more complex in recent decades. More information and data is being processed and becoming outdated at a faster pace. Because of this, organizations, companies, and individual workers are using digital information systems to remember facts and figures for them.

Although one may think that these systems may be dumbing down the people who use them, psychologists and information scientists at the University of Münster argue that they actually have the opposite effect. In fact, the ability to forget things makes people and organizations more able to act on things in the present.

The University of Münster’s Guido Hertel, Professor of Organisational and Business Psychology, and Professor Jörg Becker from the Institute of Information Systems, set up a simulation of a typical business process to test their theory. They simulated the process manufacturing companies often use to repeatedly decide how much of a company’s products are going to be sold in different countries.

Hertel and Becker found that the introduction of a supporting information system led to better economic decisions and also released users’ cognitive resources. Those workers who used the information system could better remember details of previous company decisions than people in the control group who did not have access to an information system.

Furthermore, those who used the information system reported feeling less stressed out during these decision-making periods and while completing complex tasks.

“The major pre-condition for these positive effects was that the test persons trusted the information system,” Hertel said of the study, published in Ergonomics. “Only then could better performances be clearly observed.”

In order for a person to trust an information system, technical reliability and quality of the available information was essential.

“What we found surprising was that trust in the information systems was determined by a wide variety of influencing factors,” Hertel said. “Distrust, on the other hand, already arises with one single problem- for example, a one-off technical problem.”

These findings provide further incentive to create a trustworthy information system that allows people to forget bits of unnecessary yet important workplace information. The team will now look at how other workplace-related factors influence forgetfulness such as costs arising from wrong decisions or personal orientation toward safety and security.

By Olivia Harvey, Staff Writer

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