Cog Sci Colloquia 11/3: David Rand – The cognitive science of fake news

The Cognitive Science Colloquium series presents:


David Rand

Associate Professor of Psychology, Economics, Cognitive Science and Management 

Yale University


Title: The cognitive science of fake news


November 3rd  at 4pm, OAK 109


Why do people believe patently false news headlines, and what can be done to undermine belief in “fake news”? In this talk I will describe a number of recent findings from my collaboration with Gord Pennycook exploring these issues. For example, what is the role of rational deliberation in belief in fake news? Many have argued that people use rationalization to convince themselves of the truth of stories which fit their political worldview (a form of “motivated reasoning” or “cultural cognition”). On the contrary, in a recent set of studies, we found that people who engaged in more deliberative thinking were better at discerning fake from real news, even for headlines that aligned with their political ideology – suggesting that low-level cognitive processes motivate belief in fake news, and deliberation can override such automatic responses. Illustrating one such automatic process – a fluency heuristic – another set of studies we ran showed that just reading a fake news headline made people subsequently more likely to believe it – even if the headline was flagged as “Disputed by 3rd party fact-checkers,” ran counter to the subject’s political orientation, or was not even explicitly remembered by the subject. In a third set of studies, we have also examined the impact of Disputed warnings more generally, and found an “implied truth” effect – if only some fake stories are tagged with a warning, it increases the perceived accuracy of fake stories without warnings. This is worrying, given that it is much easier to produce fake news than to fact check it (such that only a small subset of all fake news stories will ever be successfully tagged with warnings). Furthermore, this implied truth effect was largest among two sub-populations particularly vulnerable to fake news: Trump supporters and young people. This paper also found that, surprisingly, increasing the salience of headlines’ sources by showing the publisher’s logo in a banner beneath each headline had no impact on perceptions of accuracy. We hope that the results of these studies, as well as others I will discuss, will help guide policy makers in their efforts to reduce belief in blatantly false information.