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Implausibility and Illusory Truth: Prior Exposure Increases Perceived Accuracy of Fake News but Has No Effect on Entirely Implausible Statements

62 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2017 Last revised: 12 Dec 2017

Gordon Pennycook

Yale University

Tyrone Cannon

Yale University

David G. Rand

Yale University

Date Written: December 11, 2017

Abstract

The 2016 US Presidential Election brought considerable attention to the phenomenon of “fake news”: entirely fabricated and often partisan content that is presented as factual. Here we demonstrate one mechanism that contributes to the believability of fake news: prior exposure. Using actual fake news headlines presented as they were seen on Facebook, we show that even a single exposure increases subsequent perceptions of accuracy, both within the same session and after a week – that is, an illusory truth effect exists for fake news. Moreover, increased perceptions of accuracy for repeated fake news headlines occurs even when the stories are labeled as contested by fact checkers, or are inconsistent with the reader’s political ideology. These results suggest that social media platforms help to incubate blatantly false news stories, and that tagging such stories as disputed is not an effective solution to this problem. Interestingly, however, we also find that prior exposure does not impact entirely implausible statements, and provide evidence for an inverted U-shaped relationship between plausibility and the magnitude of the illusory truth effect. These observations support of a model of the illusory truth effect in which fluency and prior knowledge interact, rather than proceeding serially.

Keywords: Fake News, Illusory Truth, Familiarity, Fluency, Motivated Reasoning, Political Psychology, Media Psychology

Suggested Citation

Pennycook, Gordon and Cannon, Tyrone and Rand, David G., Implausibility and Illusory Truth: Prior Exposure Increases Perceived Accuracy of Fake News but Has No Effect on Entirely Implausible Statements (December 11, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2958246 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2958246

Gordon Pennycook (Contact Author)

Yale University ( email )

New Haven, CT 06520
United States

Tyrone Cannon

Yale University ( email )

New Haven, CT 06520
United States

David G. Rand

Yale University ( email )

New Haven, CT 06520
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.DaveRand.org

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