Some Common Traits Make People More Vulnerable to Believing Fake News

This is the 20th most surprising thing we learned about humans this year.

Unsplash / Ben White

The modern life of the phrase “fake news” began in 2016 and consumed the presidential election. Now, scientists are discovering that some people are more likely to believe fake news and, as a result, developing the means to counteract misinformation. In October, psychologists reported in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition the two groups of people that are the most susceptible to adopting false beliefs: dogmatic and religious fundamentalists.

When Inverse first reported on this study, first author and Yale graduate student Michael Bronstein told us that the correlation between a greater belief in fake news and these two groups “could be fully statistically explained by the less analytic cognitive style of these individuals.”

This story is #20 on Inverse‘s 25 Most Surprising Human Discoveries Made in 2018.

The theory is essentially that people who are less engaged in regular analytic thinking are more likely to believe a fake news story is true. While Bronstein doesn’t think that religious fundamentalist and dogmatic individuals are predisposed to engage with delusions and fake news, he says they “engage less often in effortful, hypothetical thought and might therefore more often reason according to their intuitions.”

Believing in intuitions over evidence is the cornerstone of believing in fake news. In another recent study from the University of California, explained in the video below, researchers determined that when someone decides something is true, most of the time the greatest factor in that decision is their own feelings.

Bronstein and his colleagues tested the theory that more “delusion-prone individuals” are more likely to accept “implausible ideas” (that is, fake news) by asking one group of 502 people and another group of 446 people to complete a news evaluation task In it, they were shown 12 fake and 12 real news headlines in random order and instructed to rate the accuracy of each headline based on the degree to which they thought the headline described a real event.

Meanwhile, the participants were also surveyed about their own cognitive style, their level of religious fundamentalism, and how dogmatic they were. Those labeled as “dogmatic” were people with a tremendous amount of confidence in what they believe, even believing in those things after being shown they are demonstrably not true.

Example of fake news stimuli -- both headlines here are fake.

Bronstein et. al. 

The data revealed that religious fundamentalists and those who are more dogmatic were more likely to think that fake news headlines referred to actual news. Less analytical cognitive styles correlated with a vulnerability to false beliefs. But although delusion-prone people were more likely to believe in fake news headlines, that didn’t mean that they are simply suckers who believe everything they see. It comes down to the hype within the headline: The delusion-prone weren’t more likely to believe in true news headlines at all.

As 2018 winds down, Inverse is highlighting 25 surprising things we learned about humans this year. These stories told us weird stuff about our bodies and brains, uncovered insights into our social lives, and illuminated why we’re such complicated, wonderful, and weird animals. This story was #20. Read the original story here.

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