The Illusory Truth Effect: The more someone sees “fake news,” the more they believe it

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June 23, 2017 by Paul Dughi

fake news

Fake news headlines used in the study

A study done by Yale University’s Department of Psychology, Department of Economics, and School of Management concluded that “even a single exposure (to fake news) increases perceptions of accuracy.” Here’s the kicker: Even when flagged as disputed by fact-checkers, or warned that the story might be fake, the perception of accuracy went up.

“Increased perceptions of accuracy for familiar fake news headlines occurs even when the stories are labeled as contested by fact checkers, or are inconsistent with the reader’s political ideology.”

Familiarity = Perception of Accuracy

Even implausible stories and partisan claims become more believable with repetition, the study says. Critics of Fox News have long held that viewers put themselves in political echo chambers and isolated themselves from opposing views. The more exposure they had, the more they believed stories — even if implausible.

Increased Exposure = Increase Perception of Accuracy

If participants were familiar with a fake news headline, they rated it as more accurate than stories they weren’t familiar with. Even a single exposure, however, was sufficient to measure an increased perception of accuracy.

A second exposure to a fake news headline led to an even greater perception of accuracy. Researchers concluded that increased exposure has a compounding effect across time.

Warnings had no Negative Impact

Explicitly warning participants that the headlines had been disputed by third-party, independent fact-checkers, did not diminish the effect.

In fact, “becoming familiar with a fake news story by learning that it was disputed led to higher accuracy judgments compared to previously unfamiliar fake news stories,” according to the study.

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