--Original published at Alex's Thoughts
In the recent tumult of national politics and partisan ideologies gaining traction in the United States, one must ask the question, why do people not bother to look at the other side’s viewpoints? Are they simply intellectually lazy, or do they attempt to rationalize their own partisan beliefs, even at the cost of the unabashed truth? Political scholars have been debating which one makes more sense in the context of modern society, especially after the 2016 election cycle. According to a recent study conducted by psychologists Dr. Gordon Pennycook and David Rand, the first theory is the most likely one.
The study in question relied on a convenience sample of Mechanical Turk workers. They were given a well-respected psychology test to determine political affiliation while avoiding the personal bias of the researchers. After being given the test, they were assigned tabloid and actual news headlines and asked to determine which ones were true and which ones were false. Generally speaking, neither side of the political spectrum was better or worse than the other at detecting false headlines. People who were more inclined towards critical thinking were more likely to detect false headlines, instead of attempting to rationalize them like the second theory would claim. This was true whether or not the headlines aligned with their own political views. After controlling for factors like level of education and political leaning, this was still found to be the case. Overall, the results of this study seem to coincide with the idea that people will not attempt to rationalize fake news for their own sense of entitlement, they simply do not care to research the topic in question.
While this study is merely a small sample and demographic relative to the United States population, it would seem to indicate that the question is still worth being researched. Increased samples with the same test administered would most likely corroborate with the findings of this study, adding more evidence to the idea that people will not rationalize false headlines, especially if they are adept at critical thinking.
This study and the topic as a whole are meant to address the question, what can be done about the proliferation of fake news? If the results of this study are found to be repeated a repeated pattern in further studies with much better samples and more diverse sampling options, then the answer would seem to be quite simple. Think before speaking, as thinking about the implications of the news versus the reality of the situation will give one a much better sense of what is occurring in the world. The American people do not need to be reminded about the partisanship in the nation, they need to be reminded about the innumerable benefits of being an informed, alert, and vocal citizen of the United States of America. Questioning news sources, reading literature and informing oneself about current events, and simply maintaining an open mind to the viewpoints of others would go a long way towards resolving both the ills of the media and the nation as a whole.
Pennycook, Gordon and David Rand. “Why Do People Fall for Fake News?” 19 January 2019. The New York Times. Website. 13 February 2019.
Original Research Article:
I learned a lot about how the media chooses to portray psychological research in order to sell a particular viewpoint to the public in the hopes that “new research” buzzwords will cause them to immediately and unquestioningly believe whatever is espoused in the article. I understand that it is done to garner interest in the publication and ultimately sell ads, but the sensationalism that is originally innocent could prove poisonous if proper research is not cited to back up the claims of the article. For example, the original article goes into great depth about how the original variables in the study were operationalized, but skimmed over how their participants were selected and grouped. If they mentioned this up front, it would have confounded any conclusions they were trying to draw with the data, as the participants were not randomly selected or grouped at all. Additionally, they attempted to generalize the findings to the American population. However, the convenience sample of Mechanical Turk workers do not come anywhere close to allowing the results to be generalized to the population of the United States. To be fair, the authors of the original article attempt to assert that they have other studies in the works that corroborate the results further, but the studies have not been published or peer-reviewed as of yet. As such, I attempted to remedy the ills of the original authors in my reinterpretation.
I was up front about the sampling methods and stated that it was a convenience sample of Mechanical Turk workers. I praised the method of operationalizing variables, and went into detail about how the test was conducted. I later stated that while the sample and demographic were small when compared with the population of the United States, the question was still worth looking into. Larger samples with more diverse sampling options would do much to bolster the assertions of the original article and the findings of the researchers.
Overall, the quality of the assertions of the original article were quite poor, as no deductions can be drawn from data that is derived from such a lacking sample. The way I finished my article was all based under the assumption that if further studies with better sampling methods were conducted and found to have the same results as the one conducted by the authors, then perhaps something can be done about the widespread proliferation of fake news. Until then, nothing has been distinctly proven or disproven about the topic, and the American people will have to draw their own conclusions as thinking citizens.