Critical assessment requires us to peek into our psychological makeup as humans, Source: Unsplash

How do we end up believing in false information?

How do we end up believing in false information?

In an age where information bombards us from all directions, seeking the truth can often feel like navigating through a maze

From misleading, clickbait headlines to deep fakes that go viral, we find ourselves extremely vulnerable to dis- and misinformation and are quite often prone to unconsciously being deceived. But what exactly is it that makes us fall for these schemes?

One factor that plays a detrimental role in us becoming victims of disinformation is a phenomenon called cognitive bias. To put it briefly, a cognitive bias is a pattern of divergence from normal or rational behaviour, a glitch that happens in our brain and impacts our judgement.

As individuals, we naturally tend to develop perceptions of reality based on our unique experiences and cognitive algorithms. Said perception generates interpretations of events that are also based on our particular experience and mindset and when we face similar circumstances, our brain creates patterns that eventually turn into biases.

Once a cognitive bias is established, it influences the way our brains respond to and interact with certain occurrences or pieces of information. Cognitive biases have multiple facades behind which they may appear, but one of the most frequently encountered ones would be the confirmation bias. This psychological phenomenon in particular, compels us to seek out information that would confirm our preexisting beliefs and ignore evidence to the contrary, thus leaving us vulnerable to misinformation that aligns with our opinions.

Social influence

Social influence also plays a pivotal role in this process. As Aristotle first affirmed, and many specialists have confirmed over the centuries, we humans are social beings, and as such, we long for fraternity. One of the detrimental parts of this nature of ours stems from the fact that, in seeking affiliation, we tend to bend our ways and our opinions in order to be accepted by and into the community.

This way, societal influence, under the disguise of peer pressure, makes us more prone to abide by societal norms, and to follow popular opinion, regardless of its factuality.

Another side of social influence that compromises our resistance against fake news is our tendency to give credence to information spread by our loved ones or by the people in our community, even when it might lack solid grounds.

The trust we put in our companions, as well as the fear of conflict or social exclusion, can potentially cloud our judgement, making us more susceptible to false information that circulates within our circles.

The design of digital technology also contributes to this

Apart from the psychological factors behind it, believing false information is nowadays greatly facilitated by the sheer volume and speed at which information comes our way. Since we are more interconnected than ever before and new stories seep from all corners of the world, news spreads like wildfire, especially on social media platforms.

Additionally, the switch to new media journalism and the gear towards using social media as a means to distribute news has the world at a crossroads. With the public preferring digital media portals due to their accessibility and professional journalists fearing the risks those platforms pose in terms of control and credibility, information finds itself in a tight and hazardous spot.

Ultimately, navigating the treacherous waters of misinformation in the digital era requires a multifaceted approach. The first step in the right direction is recognising the problem and being aware of the psychological vulnerability we pose towards believing it.

From here, what we must ensure, as global citizens, in order for us to stay properly and factually au courant is that we actively participate in the process of informing ourselves, by following trusted outlets and opinion leaders; using multiple sources; analysing the events from various points of view; and, most importantly, using critical thinking.

This article is part of Read Twice – an EU-funded project, coordinated by Euro Advance Association that targets young people and aims to counter disinformation and fake news by enhancing their skills to assess critically information, identify vicious and harmful media content and distinguish between facts and opinions, thus improving their media literacy competences.

The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of its author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Union nor of TheMayor.EU.



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