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Study sheds light on how fake news affects us

Fake news is a problem. Fake facts are even a bigger problem. A study by Jumpshot found that Facebook referrals accounted for 50% of total traffic to fake news sites and 20% of total traffic to credible news sites.

So, what can fake news and facts do to us?

The mind takes the easy route — it likes to believe in things that do not force us to change our existing ideas. So it’s quite easy to trick the brain. And, whatever information that manages to get through our senses registers in our mind based on our attitudes.

How fake news affects us

To demonstrate this phenomenon, Dr. Kimberley Wade of the department of psychology in University of Warwick did an experiment. The study showed how even if we are told about a completely fictitious event from our lives, and repeatedly imagine that event occurring, almost half of us would accept that it did.

During the experiment, over 400 participants had fictitious autobiographical events suggested to them. The results of the study found that around 50% of the participants believed, in varying degree, that they had experienced those events.

Among the findings, one was:

30% of participants appeared to ‘remember’ the event — they accepted the suggested event, elaborated on how the event occurred, and even described images of what the event was like. Another 23% showed signs that they accepted the suggested event to some degree and believed it really happened.

“The finding that a large portion of people are prone to developing false beliefs is important. We know from other research that distorted beliefs can influence people’s behaviors, intentions and attitudes,” Dr. Kimberley Wade said.

The study raises a key issue of how misinformation or fake news can create incorrect collective memories, affecting behavior and attitudes of a society.

Resources:

  1. A mega-analysis of memory reports from eight peer-reviewed false memory implantation studies by Alan Scoboria, Kimberley A. Wade, D. Stephen Lindsay, Tanjeem Azad, Deryn Strange, James Ost, and Ira E. Hyman.
  2. Data on Facebook’s fake news problem

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