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    April 17, 2019, 10:10 a.m.

    A cognitive scientist explains why humans are so susceptible to fake news and misinformation

    “We might like to think of our memory as an archivist that carefully preserves events, but sometimes it’s more like a storyteller.”

    How fake news gets into our minds, and what you can do to resist it

    Although the term itself is not new, fake news presents a growing threat for . Only a to disrupt a conversation, and at extremes it can have an impact on democratic processes, .

    But what can we do to avoid fake news, at a time when we could be waiting a while for and to step up and ?

    From a psychology perspective, an important step in tackling fake news is to understand why it gets into our mind. We can do this by and . Using this viewpoint generates some tips you can use to work out whether you’re reading or sharing fake news.

    How memory gets distorted at the source

    Fake news often relies on — instances in which we can retrieve things from memory but can’t remember their source. Misattribution is one of the reasons advertising is so effective. We see a product and feel a pleasant sense of familiarity because we’ve encountered it before, but fail to remember that the source of the memory was an ad.

    examined headlines from fake news published during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The researchers found even a single presentation of a headline (such as “Donald Trump Sent His Own Plane to Transport 200 Stranded Marines,” ) was enough to increase belief in its content. This effect persisted for at least a week, and it was still found when headlines were accompanied by a fact-check warning or even when participants suspected it might be false.

    Repeated exposure can . Repetition creates the perception of group consensus that can result in collective misremembering, a phenomenon called the .

    It might be harmless when people collectively misremember something fun, such as a (did the Queen in Disney’s Snow White really not say “Mirror, mirror”?). But it has serious consequences when a false sense of group consensus contributes to .

    Scientists have investigated whether . Dubbed false-memory diets, it is said that false memories of food experiences can encourage people to , , and even .

    Creative people that have a strong ability to associate different words are . Some people might be more vulnerable than others to believe fake news, but .

    How bias can reinforce fake news

    is how our feelings and worldview affect the . We might like to think of our memory as an archivist that carefully preserves events, but . Memories are shaped by our beliefs and can function to .

    An example of this is selective exposure, our tendency to seek information that and to avoid information that brings those beliefs into question. This effect is supported by evidence that television news audiences are and can exist in their own echo chambers. It was thought that online communities exhibit the same behavior, contributing to the spread of fake news, but this . Political news sites are often populated by people with and echo chambers are .

    Our brains are wired to assume things we believe . But are we more inclined to remember information that reinforces our beliefs? . People who hold strong beliefs remember things that are relevant to their beliefs, but they remember opposing information too. This happens because people are motivated to defend their beliefs against opposing views.

    Belief echoes are a related phenomenon that . Fake news is often designed to be attention-grabbing. It can continue to shape people’s attitudes after it has been discredited because it produces a vivid emotional reaction and builds on our existing narratives. Corrections have a much smaller emotional impact, especially if they require policy details, so should be to be effective.

    Tips for resisting fake news

    The way our memory works means it might be impossible to resist fake news completely. But one approach is to start . This involves adopting a questioning attitude that is motivated by curiosity and being aware of personal bias.

    For fake news, this might involve asking ourselves the following questions:

    • What type of content is this? . By reflecting on whether information is news, opinion, or even humor, this can help consolidate information more completely into memory.
    • Where is it published? Paying attention to where information is published is crucial for encoding the source of information into memory. If something is a big deal, a wide variety of sources will discuss it, so attending to this detail is important.
    • Who benefits? Reflecting on who benefits from you believing the content helps consolidate the source of that information into memory. It can also help us reflect on our own interests and whether our personal biases are at play.

    Some people because they are more accepting of weak claims. But we can strive to be more reflective in our open-mindedness by paying attention to the source of information, and questioning our own knowledge if and when we are unable to remember the context of our memories.

    is a research officer at the Cognitive Neurology Lab of Monash University who studies the relationship between metacognition, consciousness, and related cognitive processes. A was published at .The Conversation

    POSTED     April 17, 2019, 10:10 a.m.
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