We need fake news to maintain our precious sanity, study claims

According to research, many of us need to be lied to in order to maintain a structured environment. Fake news, you’ve done it again!

 

 

“Fake news” is a term used to refer to deliberately misleading or false news stories that are created to spread disinformation. More recently though, fake news has become a buzz-term employed to dismiss or discredit legitimate reporting that does not conform to the user’s worldview.

New research published in the journal Psychological Science attempts to reveal that the degree to which people level accusations of fake news against news outlets is at least partially associated with a personal need for an orderly and structured environment.

“Believing that news organizations are involved in an orchestrated disinformation campaign implies a more orderly world than believing that the news is prone to random errors,” said Jordan Axt, a researcher at McGill University and lead author on the paper. “This work helps to identify when, why, and for whom fake-news claims are persuasive.”

Their research covers six studies and included more than 2,800 participants. Axt and his colleagues found that a measure called ‘Personal Need for Structure’ (PNS), which assesses the extent to which people seek order in the world, is slightly associated with making fake-news accusations.

 

Unsurprisingly, the relationship emerged when participants viewed a negative story about a political figure they prefer (e.g. Democrats reading a negative story about Barack Obama) as well as those they do not prefer (e.g. Republicans reading a negative story about Barack Obama).

 

“This relationship between PNS and fake news attributions was small but enough to suggest that PNS may play some role in determining when people make such attributions,” said Axt. “The rise in fake news attributions may be another way that some people maintain or perceive a structured world.”

Unsurprisingly, the relationship emerged when participants viewed a negative story about a political figure they prefer (e.g. Democrats reading a negative story about Barack Obama) as well as those they do not prefer (e.g. Republicans reading a negative story about Barack Obama).

In both cases, the individuals’ greater need for structure was highly correlated with the likelihood of thinking that such a story was the product of intentional deception on the part of the journalist. The findings suggest that the connection between PNS and screaming ‘fake news’ is more than just another form of political partisanship.

“Republican participants showed a stronger effect than Democratic participants, which aligns with past work on the need for structure and conspiratorial thinking,” noted Axt.

The researchers attempted to develop an intervention to reduce fake news attributions. In one study, the participants were less likely to attribute a piece to fake news if the viewing was preceded with the participant being asked to think of a time when they had control over an aspect of their lives. Some follow-up studies taking similar approaches, however, failed to find an effect.

“So for now, this is initial evidence for one path toward minimiSing fake news attributions by reminding people of the control they may have over their lives,” concluded Axt.

 

 

 

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