March 26, 2019

The Partisan Psychology of Fake News

“Humans are motivated reasoners. When we see a news article that confirms something we think to be true or we want to be true, we quickly “like” it and then share it vehemently on Facebook. Take this news story, for instance, which declares that “Cheese protects you from all causes of death, says science.”* Most cheese lovers probably didn’t look too deeply into the scientific literature before they shared it among their friends.

This applies not just to scientific news stories, but also to politically-based “fake news.” Since the 2016 presidency, the use of the phrase exploded, with a more than 350% increase in popular usage. Collins Dictionary even named it word of the year in 2017. Surprisingly, however, the concept of fake news has received little attention within the social psychological literature. Is everyone susceptible to believing fake news, or is it mostly just Republicans (as anecdotes suggest)?

In a recent preprint, Craig Harper and Thom Baguley presented the results of three well-powered studies using American and British samples to investigate whether liberals and conservatives are equally motivated to believe fake news. The researchers presented both positive and negative fake news stories written for the purposes of the study. For each story, a ‘TV breaking news’ image was shown, along with a short written news story to supplement the image.”

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