Study shows how information sources affect voters

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For all the fact-checking and objective reporting produced by major media outlets, voters in the U.S. nonetheless rely heavily on their pre-existing views when deciding if politicians' statements are true or not, according to a new study co-authored by MIT scholars.

The study, conducted during the U.S. presidential primaries for the 2016 election, uses a series of by President Donald J. Trump—then one of many candidates in the Republican field—to see how partisanship and prior beliefs interact with evaluations of objective fact.

The researchers looked at both true and false statements Trump made, and surveyed voters from both parties about their responses. They found that the source of the claim was significant for members of both parties. For instance, when Trump falsely suggested vaccines cause autism, a claim rejected by scientists, Republicans were more likely to believe the claim when it was attributed to Trump than they were when the claim was presented without attribution.

On the other hand, when Trump correctly stated the financial cost of the Iraq War, Democrats were less likely to believe his claim than they were when the same claim was presented in unattributed form.

"It wasn't just the case that misinformation attributed to Trump was less likely to be rejected by Republicans," says Adam Berinsky, a professor of political science at MIT and a co-author of the new paper. "The things Trump said that were true, if attributed to Trump, [made] Democrats less likely to believe [them]. ... Trump really does polarize people's views of reality."

Overall, self-identified Republicans who were surveyed gave Trump's false statements a collective "belief score" of about six, on a scale of 0-10, when those statements were attributed to him. Without attribution, the belief score fell to about 4.5 out of 10.

Self-identified Democrats, on the other hand, gave Trump's true statements a belief score of about seven out of 10 when those statements were unattributed. When the statements were attributed to Trump, the aggregate belief score fell to about six out of 10.

The paper, "Processing Political Information—Comprehending the Trump Phenomenon ," is being published today in the journal Royal Society Open Science. The co-authors are Swire, Berinsky, Stephan Lewandowsky of the University of Western Australia and the University of Bristol, and Ullrich K.H. Ecker of the University of Western Australia.

In conducting the study, the researchers surveyed 1,776 U.S. citizens during the fall of 2015, presenting them with four true statements from Trump as well as four false ones.

After correcting the , the scholars also asked the survey's respondents if they were less likely to support Trump as a result—but found the candidate's factual issues were largely irrelevant to the respondents' voting choices.

"It just doesn't have an effect on support for him," Berinsky says. "It's not that saying things that are incorrect is garnering support for him, but it's not costing him support either."

The latest study is one in a series of papers Berinsky has published on political rumors, facticity, and partisan beliefs. His previous work has shown that, for instance, corrections of political rumors tend to be ineffective unless made by people within the same political party as the intended audience. That is, rumors about Democrats that are popular among Republican voters are most effectively shot down by other Republicans, and vice versa.

In a related sense, Berinsky thinks, solutions to matters of truth and falsehood in the current—and highly polarized—political moment may need to have a similar partisan structure, due to the blizzard of claims and counterclaims about truth, falsehoods, "fake news," and more.

"In a partisan time, the solution to misinformation has to be partisan, because there just aren't authorities that will be recognized by both sides of the aisle," he says.

"This is a tough nut to crack, this question of misinformation and how to correct it," he adds. "Anybody who tells you there's an easy solution, like, 'three easy things you can do to correct misinformation,' don't listen to them. If it were that easy, it would be solved by now."

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More information: Processing Political Misinformation—Comprehending the Trump Phenomenon, Royal Society Open Science, rsos.royalsocietypublishing.or … /10.1098/rsos.160802
Journal information: Royal Society Open Science

Citation: Study shows how information sources affect voters (2017, February 28) retrieved 15 October 2019 from
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Mar 01, 2017
The problem is intelligence. These right wing types never got an education and can't think. They can only follow.

Mar 01, 2017
While in development, the X-15 rocket powered aircraft exploded on the test stand. The test pilot, Scott Crossfield, wasn't injured. However, he was hosed down by the firefighters for safety. So when the reporters came by to talk to him about it, Crossfield mentioned that he got hosed down. The next morning, headlines read "X-15 explodes, Pilot Wets Pants."

People are getting tired of this steady diet of lurid, stupid misinformation that most of our media provides. This study merely proves that some people are not paying as much attention to what these so-called Journalists are publishing because, frankly, they know they're being misled.

Journalists in particular need to wake up to the fact that the public is now more aware of their behavior than ever before. Report things as they are, not as you'd want them to be.

Mar 01, 2017
The media is not a homogenous bloc, Rupert would like that to be otherwise, and as far as he'd be concerned we could all be a fed a steady diet of fear and wow. Topped generously with advertising. Commerce has always been heart of newsprint and aiming for the low hanging fruit of the easily aroused emotions sells more copy. I'd like to see good investigative journalism alive again. Where governments and figures of authority get held to account rather than bullshite crime reporting on page one and a little blind girl with a puppy on page three.

Mar 01, 2017
manfred left out the sleazy nudes and violence-obsessed lurid crime "reports".

Mar 01, 2017
I've soapboxed for years on the unholy trinity that exists between commercial media, big business, and politics. The media avoid negative press about big business and politics. Aside from being used to leverage either of them or be a tool for their rivalry. Politics wont call out the vacuous logic of the latest witchhunt the mainstream media are on, in fact they support it because the public want something to fear and hate and the politicians love to look like they are supplying a solution.
This just in: Government steps up campaign against antisocial behaviour by the poor and mentally ill, while quietly cuts funding to regulatory body overseeing government productivity and accountability.

Mar 02, 2017
The problem is intelligence. These right wing types never got an education and can't think. They can only follow.
it isn't about just the right - it includes the left as well

if you will please note from the study:
it examined the impact of source credibility on the assessment of veracity when information comes from a polarizing source (Experiment 1), and effectiveness of explanations when they come from one's own political party or an opposition party (Experiment 2). These experiments were conducted prior to the 2016 Presidential election.
belief updating was more influenced by perceived credibility of the individual initially purporting the information. These findings suggest that people use political figures as a heuristic to guide evaluation of what is true or false, yet do not necessarily insist on veracity as a prerequisite for supporting political candidates
keywords: influenced by perceived credibility

Mar 02, 2017
''with four true statements from Trump as well as four false ones.'' I'll bet , high comedy/farce, course the 'researchers '' got the '' true'' statements from CNN

Mar 02, 2017
"Supporters of US President Donald Trump are more likely to believe what he says, and even after they are shown it is not true, they still want to vote for him, research has shown.

The University of Western Australia study was undertaken by researcher Briony Swire-Thompson and School of Psychological Science associate professor Ullrich Ecker in late 2015"

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