Lazy, Not Biased: Susceptibility to Partisan Fake News Is Better Explained by Lack of Reasoning Than by Motivated Reasoning

Cognition, doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2018.06.011

71 Pages Posted: 6 May 2018 Last revised: 29 Jun 2018

Gordon Pennycook

University of Regina

David G. Rand

MIT

Date Written: 2018

Abstract

Why do people believe blatantly inaccurate news headlines (“fake news”)? Do we use our reasoning abilities to convince ourselves that statements that align with our ideology are true, or does reasoning allow us to effectively differentiate fake from real regardless of political ideology? Here we test these competing accounts in two studies (total N = 3,446 Mechanical Turk workers) by using the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT) as a measure of the propensity to engage in analytical reasoning. We find that CRT performance is negatively correlated with the perceived accuracy of fake news, and positively correlated with the ability to discern fake news from real news – even for headlines that align with individuals’ political ideology. Moreover, overall discernment was actually better for ideologically aligned headlines than for misaligned headlines. Finally, a headline-level analysis finds that CRT is negatively correlated with perceived accuracy of relatively implausible (primarily fake) headlines, and positively correlated with perceived accuracy of relatively plausible (primarily real) headlines. In contrast, the correlation between CRT and perceived accuracy is unrelated to how closely the headline aligns with the participant’s ideology. Thus, we conclude that analytic thinking is used to assess the plausibility of headlines, regardless of whether the stories are consistent or inconsistent with one’s political ideology. Our findings therefore suggest that susceptibility to fake news is driven more by lazy thinking than it is by partisan bias per se – a finding that opens potential avenues for fighting fake news.

Keywords: fake news, news media, social media, analytic thinking, cognitive reflection test, intuition, dual process theory

Suggested Citation

Pennycook, Gordon and Rand, David G., Lazy, Not Biased: Susceptibility to Partisan Fake News Is Better Explained by Lack of Reasoning Than by Motivated Reasoning (2018). Cognition, doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2018.06.011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3165567 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3165567

Gordon Pennycook (Contact Author)

University of Regina ( email )

3737 Wascana Parkway
Regina, Saskatchewan S4S OA2
Canada

David G. Rand

MIT ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

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

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
630
rank
37,696
Abstract Views
3,696
PlumX