Who Falls for Fake News? The Roles of Analytic Thinking, Motivated Reasoning, Political Ideology, and Bullshit Receptivity
72 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2017 Last revised: 15 Sep 2017
Date Written: September 12, 2017
Fake news represents a particularly egregious and direct avenue by which inaccurate beliefs have been propagated via social media. Here we investigate the cognitive psychological profile of individuals who fall prey to fake news. We find a consistent positive correlation between the propensity to think analytically – as measured by the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT) – and the ability to differentiate fake news from real news (“media truth discernment”). This was true regardless of whether the article’s source was indicated (which, surprisingly, also had no main effect on accuracy judgments). Contrary to the motivated reasoning account, CRT was just as positively correlated with media truth discernment, if not more so, for headlines that aligned with individuals’ political ideology relative to those that were politically discordant. The link between analytic thinking and media truth discernment was driven both by a negative correlation between CRT and perceptions of fake news accuracy (particularly among Hillary Clinton supporters), and a positive correlation between CRT and perceptions of real news accuracy (particularly among Donald Trump supporters). This suggests that factors that undermine the legitimacy of traditional news media may exacerbate the problem of inaccurate political beliefs among Trump supporters, who engaged in less analytic thinking and were overall less able to discern fake from real news (regardless of the news’ political valence). We also found consistent evidence that pseudo-profound bullshit receptivity negatively correlates with perceptions of fake news accuracy; a correlation that is mediated by analytic thinking. Finally, analytic thinking was associated with an unwillingness to share both fake and real news on social media. Our results indicate that the propensity to think analytically plays an important role in the recognition of misinformation, regardless of political valence – a finding that opens up potential avenues for fighting fake news.
Keywords: fake news, news media, social media, analytic thinking, cognitive reflection test, intuition, dual process theory
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