Researchers from Ohio State University have found that people who tend to rely on their ‘gut feelings’ are more likely to believe fake news.
The study, which involved three surveys, looked at how people form their beliefs and what factors help guide those decisions whether it’s hard evidence, previously political bias or simply just going with instinct.
Each participant was asked 12 questions including “I trust my gut to tell me what’s true and what’s not,” “Evidence is more important than whether something feels true” and “Facts are dictated by those in power.”
Analysing the responses to these questions the team then assessed how much each person relied on their intuition or ‘gut instinct’, how much they valued hard evidence and whether or not their believed that the ‘truth’ was political.
Kelly Garrett, lead researcher and a professor of communication at The Ohio State University, explains:
“A lot of attention is paid to our political motivations, and while political bias is a reality, we shouldn’t lose track of the fact that people have other kinds of biases too.”
The team did indeed find that other biases did play an important role in how people cemented their beliefs.
To gauge how people were coming to these decisions they used a number of controversial topics including the link between vaccines and autism and the old favourite of whether or not climate change is the fault of humanity.
The team then expanded this to well-known conspiracy theories. They found that more than 45% don’t buy that Kennedy was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald while 33% believe Martin Luther King was assassinated by the U.S. government.
Ultimately Garrett found that overall the results were as you would expect: People who believe the truth is political were much more likely to believe falsehoods. Whereas those who rely on hard evidence for their beliefs are less likely to fall foul of fake news.
What was really interesting though was a third connection they found which was that those who rely on intuition in order to learn the truth are more likely to endorse conspiracies or falsehoods.
“While trusting your gut may be beneficial in some situations, it turns out that putting faith in intuition over evidence leaves us susceptible to misinformation,” said Brian Weeks, who worked on the research as an Ohio State graduate student.
This is important because it shows that people’s decisions about whether something is true is not based solely on their political views or political bias.
“Misperceptions don’t always arise because people are blinded by what their party or favourite news outlet is telling them,” says Garrett.
The solution? “People sometimes say that it’s too hard to know what’s true anymore. That’s just not true. These results suggest that if you pay attention to evidence you’re less likely to hold beliefs that aren’t correct,”