Getting Information Overload Online? – You Are Not Alone!

Humans did NOT Evolve for the Online Life We are Living Now!

Primary Category: Scam Psychology

•  Vianey Gonzalez B.Sc(Psych) – Psychologist, Certified Deception Professional, Psychology Advisory Panel & Director of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.
•  Tim McGuinness, Ph.D. – Anthropologist, Scientist, Director of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.

About This Article

Humans have evolved in environments with limited and manageable information flow, yet today we are constantly inundated with data from digital sources, leading to information overload/cognitive overload. This phenomenon occurs when the brain’s capacity to process information is exceeded, resulting in impaired attention, decision-making, and problem-solving abilities. Scammers exploit this vulnerability by using complex information to overwhelm and confuse individuals, making it difficult for them to discern essential details.

Additionally, emotional manipulation is a common tactic, where scammers induce strong emotional reactions such as fear or excitement, diverting cognitive resources from logical analysis to emotional response. This psychological exploitation leverages the brain’s tendency to seek cognitive shortcuts under stress, increasing the likelihood of falling for scams.

Understanding these dynamics highlights the importance of managing cognitive load and developing strategies to protect against online deception.

Getting Information Overload Online? - You Are Not Alone! 2024

Humans vs. 24/7 Information Overload: An Evolutionary Mismatch

Information/Cognitive Overload

Information Overload: In the grand tapestry of human history, our species has evolved over millions of years to adapt to a world that operated at a much slower pace than today’s hyper-connected society.

For most of our existence, communication was limited to face-to-face interactions and information spread at the speed of a horse, a ship, or even on foot. However, the past few decades have witnessed an unprecedented transformation: in the advent of the digital age, Information Overload is constant. We now live in a world where information is available at our fingertips 24/7, leading to a significant mismatch between our evolutionary heritage and modern-day realities.

The Evolutionary Perspective

Our brains have evolved to process information in a way that suited our ancestral environment. Early humans lived in small, tight-knit communities where information flow was limited and manageable. The brain’s capacity to handle stress, attention, and social interactions was honed in an environment where changes happened gradually and where there was ample downtime to rest and recuperate.

The prefrontal cortex, responsible for decision-making, problem-solving, and moderating social behavior, evolved to manage the relatively simple and slow-paced demands of early human societies. In contrast, today’s world bombards this same brain region with an overwhelming deluge of information, notifications, and constant connectivity.

The Modern Effects of Information Overload

Today, we are inundated with information from multiple sources: emails, social media, news alerts, text messages, and a myriad of digital platforms. The sheer volume and speed of this information can easily overwhelm our cognitive and emotional capacities. This constant connectivity and the expectation of immediate responses create a state of perpetual alertness, leaving little room for the brain to rest and reset.

Several psychological conditions and phenomena illustrate how ill-equipped our brains are for this 24/7 information world:

Anxiety Disorders: The pressure to be constantly available and responsive can heighten anxiety levels. The fear of missing important information or not responding quickly enough can lead to chronic stress and anxiety disorders.

Information Overload: This term describes the state of being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information one needs to process. It can lead to stress, decreased productivity, and decision fatigue as our brains struggle to filter and prioritize the incessant flow of data.

Technostress: A modern term for the stress induced by technology use. The need to constantly check and respond to digital communications can create a relentless sense of urgency and pressure.

Attention Deficit Disorders: Conditions like ADHD can be exacerbated by the need to frequently switch attention between tasks and communications, making it difficult to focus and complete tasks efficiently.

Burnout: The continuous exposure to high levels of stress from work-related communication demands can lead to burnout, characterized by physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion.

Sleep Disorders: The expectation to be constantly connected can interfere with sleep patterns, leading to insomnia or poor-quality sleep, which further exacerbates stress and cognitive overload.

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out): This phenomenon is characterized by the anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often exacerbated by social media and constant connectivity.

The Foundation of Information Overload and Susceptibility or Vulnerability to Scams

The relationship between being overwhelmed by online information and susceptibility to scams is well known and documented, though most people have no idea of the limits of their own brain. Studies have already focused on how cognitive overload, stress, and lack of attention can make individuals more vulnerable to fraudulent activities.

Here are the major causes and impacts:

Cognitive Overload and Scam Vulnerability

Cognitive Load Theory: This theory suggests that when individuals are overwhelmed with information, their cognitive resources are depleted, making it harder for them to process and evaluate the information critically. Scammers exploit this by creating situations where victims must make quick decisions without fully understanding the implications.

Decision Fatigue: Research indicates that continuous decision-making, as often required in online environments, leads to decision fatigue. This state of mental exhaustion reduces the ability to resist persuasive tactics used by scammers. Studies show that individuals are more likely to fall for scams when they are tired and mentally drained.

Specific Studies and Findings

Overload and Online Deception: A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that participants exposed to high levels of online information were more likely to fall for phishing emails. The study demonstrated that information overload impairs the ability to detect deception, leading to a higher risk of falling for scams.

Susceptibility to Online Fraud: Research conducted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) highlights that individuals who experience high levels of online information and communication are more susceptible to online fraud. The study suggests that scammers use the complexity and volume of online information to their advantage, creating realistic-looking scams that can easily deceive overwhelmed individuals.

Attention and Scam Detection: A study in the Journal of Economic Psychology explored how attention affects the ability to detect scams. The findings indicated that individuals who are constantly multitasking and dealing with a high volume of online information are less likely to notice warning signs of scams. This decreased attention increases their vulnerability.

Find the studies that support these conclusions below.

Cognitive Overload in the Digital Age

The digital age has revolutionized the way we access and consume information. With the rise of the internet, social media, and smartphones, we are constantly bombarded with a vast array of data from various sources. Emails, social media updates, news alerts, and advertisements vie for our attention every second. This relentless stream of information can lead to cognitive overload, making it difficult to discern credible information from deceptive content.

The Theory of Cognitive Load

Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) posits that our working memory has a limited capacity for processing new information. When this capacity is exceeded, our cognitive functions, such as decision-making and problem-solving, become compromised. In an online context, where information is abundant and often complex, cognitive overload can be a frequent occurrence.

What is Cognitive Overload?

Cognitive overload is a psychological state in which the brain’s capacity to process information is exceeded by the amount of information it receives. Yes, this is a real thing! Just like your completer running slow on really big websites, your brain slows down when overloaded.

This state occurs when the demands on working memory, which temporarily holds and processes information, surpass its limited capacity. The working memory can only handle a finite amount of data at any given time, and when this threshold is crossed, cognitive functions such as attention, comprehension, and decision-making become impaired. This includes vulnerability to scams too.

In the condition of cognitive overload, individuals may experience difficulty concentrating, increased errors, and a decline in the ability to retain and recall information. This impairment occurs because the brain is unable to effectively filter, prioritize, and integrate the excessive input, leading to a breakdown in cognitive processing. This phenomenon is particularly relevant in situations where individuals are exposed to rapidly changing or complex information, highlighting the importance of managing cognitive load to maintain optimal mental functioning.

How Scammers Exploit Cognitive Overload

Creating Urgency

Scammers often create a sense of urgency to pressure individuals into making quick decisions without fully understanding the situation. This tactic exploits the reduced cognitive capacity of overwhelmed individuals, making them more likely to fall for the scam.

Scammers exploit cognitive overload by creating a sense of urgency, a tactic that leverages the brain’s limited capacity to process information under pressure. When individuals are faced with urgent situations, their cognitive resources are diverted towards resolving the immediate threat or need. This heightened state of urgency triggers a stress response, which further diminishes the ability to process information critically and thoughtfully. Under these conditions, the brain prioritizes quick decision-making over careful analysis, making it easier for scammers to manipulate their targets.

The psychology behind this tactic is rooted in how urgency influences cognitive functions. When a person perceives a limited time to act, the prefrontal cortex, responsible for executive functions like reasoning and planning, becomes less active. Instead, the brain shifts to more automatic, instinctual responses managed by the amygdala, which handles emotional reactions and quick judgments. This shift reduces the likelihood of detecting inconsistencies or red flags in the scammer’s message. Consequently, individuals are more prone to compliance, making impulsive decisions without fully evaluating the potential consequences, which is exactly what scammers aim for to achieve their fraudulent goals.

Complex Information

Presenting information in a complex and confusing manner can overwhelm the target, making them more likely to comply with the scammer’s demands without thorough scrutiny. This strategy preys on the individual’s inability to process all the information critically due to cognitive overload.

Scammers exploit cognitive overload by presenting complex information that overwhelms the brain’s ability to process it effectively. When faced with intricate and convoluted data, individuals experience increased cognitive load, making it difficult to discern essential details from irrelevant ones. This tactic preys on the brain’s limited working memory, causing confusion and impairing the ability to make well-informed decisions. The complexity of the information forces the brain into a state of overload, where it struggles to filter and prioritize the data accurately, leading to a higher likelihood of falling for deceptive schemes.

Psychologically, this method works because it takes advantage of the brain’s natural tendency to seek cognitive shortcuts when processing difficult or voluminous information. Faced with overwhelming complexity, people are more likely to rely on heuristic processing—mental shortcuts that simplify decision-making—rather than analytical thinking. This reliance on heuristics can lead to errors in judgment, as individuals may accept misleading information at face value without critically evaluating its validity. Scammers use this psychological vulnerability to their advantage, crafting intricate scenarios that appear credible on the surface but are designed to mislead and manipulate, ultimately increasing the chances of their deceptive tactics succeeding.

Emotional Manipulation

Scammers often use emotional appeals to bypass rational decision-making processes. When individuals are emotionally charged, especially in a state of cognitive overload, their ability to think critically and detect deception diminishes.

Scammers exploit cognitive overload by using emotional manipulation, which targets the brain’s emotional processing centers and further impairs rational decision-making. When individuals are emotionally aroused, whether through fear, excitement, or sympathy, their cognitive resources are redirected from logical analysis to emotional response. This shift occurs because emotional stimuli engage the amygdala, which handles immediate emotional reactions, at the expense of the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for higher-order thinking and critical evaluation. By inducing strong emotional reactions, scammers effectively overwhelm the brain’s ability to process information logically, making individuals more susceptible to their deceptive tactics.

Psychologically, this approach works because emotional states can significantly reduce the brain’s capacity to scrutinize information critically. When under emotional stress, people are more likely to experience a phenomenon known as “affect heuristic,” where decisions are influenced by immediate emotional responses rather than rational analysis. Scammers exploit this by crafting messages that evoke strong emotions, such as urgency in a fake emergency, greed in a too-good-to-be-true offer, or fear in a threatening situation. These emotional triggers not only divert attention from critical evaluation but also create a sense of immediacy that pressures individuals into making hasty decisions, thereby increasing the likelihood of falling victim to scams.

Coping Strategies for Information Overload

Understanding that our brains are not naturally equipped to handle the demands of a 24/7 information world is the first step in mitigating its negative effects. Here are some strategies to help manage the constant information flow:

Set Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries for when you will and will not engage with digital communications. Designate specific times for checking emails and social media, and stick to these times to avoid constant interruptions.

Digital Detox: Regularly disconnect from digital devices to give your brain a chance to rest. Engage in activities that do not involve screens, such as reading a book, spending time in nature, or practicing mindfulness.

Prioritize Information: Not all information requires immediate attention. Learn to prioritize what is important and urgent, and filter out the rest. Use tools and techniques such as email filters and notification settings to manage the flow of information.

Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques can help reduce stress and improve focus. Practices such as meditation and deep breathing exercises can help calm the mind and improve your ability to manage information overload.

Seek Support: If you find the demands of constant connectivity overwhelming, seek support from friends, family, or mental health professionals. Talking about your challenges and getting advice can help you develop effective coping strategies.


The mismatch between our evolutionary heritage and the demands of the modern information world is a significant challenge. By recognizing this mismatch and implementing strategies to manage information flow, we can mitigate its negative effects and create a healthier balance between connectivity and well-being. It is essential to remember that our brains, while incredibly adaptable, still need time to rest, reset, and recharge.

The intersection of cognitive overload (also known as information overload) and susceptibility to online scams is a critical area of study, especially in our increasingly digital world. As the volume of online information continues to grow, understanding how cognitive overload affects scam vulnerability can help develop effective strategies to protect individuals from fraud. By combining education, stress management, and technological solutions, we can better equip people to navigate the complexities of the online environment safely.


Cognitive Overload and Online Deception

Study: “Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception”

Study: “Phishing Susceptibility: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”

      • Investigators: Arun Vishwanath, Tejaswini Herath, Richard Chen, Jingguo Wang, and H. Raghav Rao
      • Overview: This study investigates the factors that influence individuals’ susceptibility to phishing attacks. It highlights how cognitive overload can impair an individual’s ability to detect phishing attempts. When overwhelmed with information, individuals are more likely to overlook subtle cues that indicate a phishing scam.
      • Link: Phishing Susceptibility Study

Susceptibility to Online Fraud

Study: “Online Fraud Prevention: Challenges and Solutions”

Attention and Scam Detection

Study: “The Impact of Decision Fatigue on Consumer Choice”

      • Investigators: Kathleen D. Vohs, Roy F. Baumeister, Jean M. Twenge, Brandon J. Schmeichel, and Dianne M. Tice
      • Overview: This study explores how decision fatigue, a form of cognitive overload resulting from making numerous decisions, affects consumer behavior. The findings suggest that decision fatigue reduces the quality of decision-making and increases susceptibility to persuasive and deceptive tactics.
      • Link: Decision Fatigue Study

Mechanisms Exploited by Scammers

Study: “Understanding and Reducing Online Fraud Victimization: A Social Cognitive Approach”

Mitigation Strategies

Study: “Digital Detox: The Effect of Digital Device Restriction on Well-being”

These resources provide valuable insights into how cognitive overload and information overwhelm can increase susceptibility to online scams and what strategies can be employed to mitigate these risks.

Important Information for New Scam Victims

If you are looking for local trauma counselors please visit or join SCARS for our counseling/therapy benefit:

If you need to speak with someone now, you can dial 988 or find phone numbers for crisis hotlines all around the world here:

Statement About Victim Blaming

Some of our articles discuss various aspects of victims. This is both about better understanding victims (the science of victimology) and their behaviors and psychology. This helps us to educate victims/survivors about why these crimes happened and to not blame themselves, better develop recovery programs, and to help victims avoid scams in the future. At times this may sound like blaming the victim, but it does not blame scam victims, we are simply explaining the hows and whys of the experience victims have.

These articles, about the Psychology of Scams or Victim Psychology – meaning that all humans have psychological or cognitive characteristics in common that can either be exploited or work against us – help us all to understand the unique challenges victims face before, during, and after scams, fraud, or cybercrimes. These sometimes talk about some of the vulnerabilities the scammers exploit. Victims rarely have control of them or are even aware of them, until something like a scam happens and then they can learn how their mind works and how to overcome these mechanisms.

Articles like these help victims and others understand these processes and how to help prevent them from being exploited again or to help them recover more easily by understanding their post-scam behaviors. Learn more about the Psychology of Scams at

SCARS Resources:

Psychology Disclaimer:

All articles about psychology and the human brain on this website are for information & education only

The information provided in this and other SCARS articles are intended for educational and self-help purposes only and should not be construed as a substitute for professional therapy or counseling.

Note about Mindfulness: Mindfulness practices have the potential to create psychological distress for some individuals. Please consult a mental health professional or experienced meditation instructor for guidance should you encounter difficulties.

While any self-help techniques outlined herein may be beneficial for scam victims seeking to recover from their experience and move towards recovery, it is important to consult with a qualified mental health professional before initiating any course of action. Each individual’s experience and needs are unique, and what works for one person may not be suitable for another.

Additionally, any approach may not be appropriate for individuals with certain pre-existing mental health conditions or trauma histories. It is advisable to seek guidance from a licensed therapist or counselor who can provide personalized support, guidance, and treatment tailored to your specific needs.

If you are experiencing significant distress or emotional difficulties related to a scam or other traumatic event, please consult your doctor or mental health provider for appropriate care and support.

If you are in crisis, feeling desperate, or in despair please call 988 or your local crisis hotline.

PLEASE NOTE: Psychology Clarification

The following specific modalities within the practice of psychology are restricted to psychologists appropriately trained in the use of such modalities:

  • Diagnosis: The diagnosis of mental, emotional, or brain disorders and related behaviors.
  • Psychoanalysis: Psychoanalysis is a type of therapy that focuses on helping individuals to understand and resolve unconscious conflicts.
  • Hypnosis: Hypnosis is a state of trance in which individuals are more susceptible to suggestion. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, and pain.
  • Biofeedback: Biofeedback is a type of therapy that teaches individuals to control their bodily functions, such as heart rate and blood pressure. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including stress, anxiety, and pain.
  • Behavioral analysis: Behavioral analysis is a type of therapy that focuses on changing individuals’ behaviors. It is often used to treat conditions such as autism and ADHD.
    Neuropsychology: Neuropsychology is a type of psychology that focuses on the relationship between the brain and behavior. It is often used to assess and treat cognitive impairments caused by brain injuries or diseases.

SCARS and the members of the SCARS Team do not engage in any of the above modalities in relationship to scam victims. SCARS is not a mental healthcare provider and recognizes the importance of professionalism and separation between its work and that of the licensed practice of psychology.

SCARS is an educational provider of generalized self-help information that individuals can use for their own benefit to achieve their own goals related to emotional trauma. SCARS recommends that all scam victims see professional counselors or therapists to help them determine the suitability of any specific information or practices that may help them.

SCARS cannot diagnose or treat any individuals, nor can it state the effectiveness of any educational information that it may provide, regardless of its experience in interacting with traumatized scam victims over time. All information that SCARS provides is purely for general educational purposes to help scam victims become aware of and better understand the topics and to be able to dialog with their counselors or therapists.

It is important that all readers understand these distinctions and that they apply the information that SCARS may publish at their own risk, and should do so only after consulting a licensed psychologist or mental healthcare provider.


The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc. The author is solely responsible for the content of their work. SCARS is protected under the Communications Decency Act (CDA) section 230 from liability.







This content and other material contained on the website, apps, newsletter, and products (“Content”), is general in nature and for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical, legal, or financial advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for licensed or regulated professional advice. Always consult your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider, lawyer, financial, or tax professional with any questions you may have regarding the educational information contained herein. SCARS makes no guarantees about the efficacy of information described on or in SCARS’ Content. The information contained is subject to change and is not intended to cover all possible situations or effects. SCARS does not recommend or endorse any specific professional or care provider, product, service, or other information that may be mentioned in SCARS’ websites, apps, and Content unless explicitly identified as such.

The disclaimers herein are provided on this page for ease of reference. These disclaimers supplement and are a part of SCARS’ website’s Terms of Use

Legal Notices: 

All original content is Copyright © 1991 – 2023 Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc. (Registered D.B.A SCARS) All Rights Reserved Worldwide & Webwide. Third-party copyrights acknowledge.

U.S. State of Florida Registration Nonprofit (Not for Profit) #N20000011978 [SCARS DBA Registered #G20000137918] – Learn more at

SCARS, SCARS|INTERNATIONAL, SCARS, SCARS|SUPPORT, SCARS, RSN, Romance Scams Now, SCARS|INTERNATION, SCARS|WORLDWIDE, SCARS|GLOBAL, SCARS, Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams, Society of Citizens Against Romance Scams, SCARS|ANYSCAM, Project Anyscam, Anyscam, SCARS|GOFCH, GOFCH, SCARS|CHINA, SCARS|CDN, SCARS|UK, SCARS|LATINOAMERICA, SCARS|MEMBER, SCARS|VOLUNTEER, SCARS Cybercriminal Data Network, Cobalt Alert, Scam Victims Support Group, SCARS ANGELS, SCARS RANGERS, SCARS MARSHALLS, SCARS PARTNERS, are all trademarks of Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc., All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Contact the legal department for the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Incorporated by email at