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Fake news leaves a particularly lasting impression on the less smart

11 December 2017

One reason why fake news is dangerous is that we don’t like giving up reassuring certainties, and once we have a take on things, it colours further information – hence the seeming bulletproof nature of conspiracy theories and partisan political hatreds.

But new research in Intelligence suggests this is truer for some people than others. For mentally sharp people, the results suggest it’s relatively easy to jettison an outdated perspective, while for those of lower cognitive ability, the dregs remain.

Jonas De keersmaecker and Arne Roets from the University of Ghent recruited 390 participants from an online pool, and asked them to read a description of a nurse named Nathalie. For some participants this description ended with a damning revelation: Nathalie had been stealing drugs from the hospital and selling them to buy designer clothes. Understandably, these participants subsequently rated Nathalie negatively, as less trustworthy, sincere, warm, and hostile, compared to a control group who hadn’t been told about her misdeeds.

All participants then completed a short cognitive ability test, measuring their vocabulary knowledge of ten words. Next, those told about Nathalie’s stealing were presented with a plot twist: the accusations were entirely untrue (both accounts of Nathalie were from a “God’s-eye perspective”, stated as fact, with no reference to supporting evidence).

Read more on our Research Digest blog.

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