Why You Can’t 'Just Ignore' Fake News

Why You Can’t 'Just Ignore' Fake News

Facts_mythsEven if you know the information you’re getting is false, fictitious, or misleading, simply being exposed to it can have clear consequences, according to a review of recent studies by Northwestern University researchers.

When people are exposed to inaccurate information, they may feel confused about what is true, doubt the utility of their prior understandings, and consequently rely on false claims and ideas, according to the article, published in the journal Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

The review, co-authored by School of Education and Social Policy professor David Rapp and Nikita Salovich, a graduate student in the Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences, builds on Rapp’s previous work looking at why people rely on inaccurate information. His research suggests that even when people know better, they often draw on inaccurate or misleading ideas to make future decisions.

“Whether we’re listening to the news or reading fiction, we routinely come across inaccurate information and hope it doesn’t influence how we think and act,” said Rapp, the Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence and professor of learning sciences. “But after reading inaccurate statements, people show clear effects of that information when making decisions or solving problems, even they have prior knowledge.”

kiwi in a lemonReviewing current research directions on the topic may be critical to understanding what is driving the problematic consequences of reading inaccurate claims.

“We must consider what comprehension problems arise when people encounter false information in order to craft interventions and inform policy recommendations,” said Salovich, a doctoral student in cognitive psychology. “This is particularly important now, given the surging problems of fake news.”

Learning how to critically evaluate misleading statements can improve understanding, the researchers said. People also may benefit from paying closer attention to the context of a particular piece of information, and keeping in mind that they, too, fall victim to inaccurate information.  

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 12/14/18