Overconfidence in judgment increases the susceptibility to believing misinformation

New findings demonstrate that the likelihood of falling victim to false news increases with the belief they can distinguish false from real news.

Fact/Fake News Concept

Fact/Fake News Concept. Image Credit: Monster Ztudio/Shutterstock.com

Differentiating false from real news

Social media platforms offer the ideal environment to consume and share news stories. This is primarily due to the networks between people providing news to spread in real-time at accelerated rates. Such effects are further amplified with sensationalized stories.

However, much of the information being shared may be false. This phenomenon of false news is particularly apparent in recent years due to the widespread use of social media as a platform to disseminate political, economic, and social information and news stories.

In response, public perception and awareness of false information has increased. Nevertheless, "Though Americans believe confusion caused by false news is extensive, relatively few indicate having seen or shared it," said Ben Lyons, assistant professor of communication at the University of Utah.

If people incorrectly see themselves as highly skilled at identifying false news, they may unwittingly be more likely to consume, believe and share it, especially if it conforms to their worldview."  

The issue of perceived ability to differentiate real from fake news was therefore examined in further detail in a study by Ben Lyons and colleagues and published in Proceedings of National Academics of Sciences.

Vulnerability to misinformation increases with false confidence in the judgment

Researchers examined the relationship between the public's susceptibility to false news and their inability to recognize their own limitations in identifying such information using two large nationally representative surveys with a total of 8,285 respondents.

Individuals evaluated the accuracy of a series of Facebook headlines before rating their own abilities to discern false news content. The researchers used these two metrics to assess overconfidence among respondents and how it is related to beliefs and behaviors.

From the data collected, nearly 90 percent reported they are above average in their ability to discern false and legitimate news headlines. This contrasts with the fact that 75% of individuals actually overestimated their own ability to distinguish between legitimate and false news headlines.

On average, respondents placed themselves 22 percentiles higher than their score warranted and nearly 20 percent of respondents rated themselves 50 or more percentiles higher than their score warranted.

Our results paint a worrying picture. Many people are simply unaware of their own vulnerability to misinformation"


Being unaware of vulnerability and being vulnerable lead to the same outcomes

Past findings indicate that lack of skill in individuals may explain the engagement with false news, finding people who are worse at distinguishing between real and false news are even worse at judging accurately.

The new findings further add to this understanding as the study demonstrates that overconfidence and inflated perception of judgment ability are independently associated with one’s engagement with misinformation. This would indicate that there are perceptual gaps in awareness, representing an additional source of vulnerability.

Ben Lyons concludes "Using data measuring respondents' online behavior, we show that those who overrate their ability more frequently visit websites known to spread false or misleading news. These overconfident respondents are also less able to distinguish between true and false claims about current events and report higher willingness to share false content, especially when it aligns with their political leanings."

The wrongful perception of judgment may be an important mechanism by which individuals may fall victim to misinformation as well as disseminate such information online. Nonetheless, this data remains observational and does not identify the cause and effect of overconfidence which can be explored further.

Moreover, future studies may integrate additional factors on an individual level such as preferred social media platforms, preferred subjects of information, as well as time spent consuming information. The mismatch between one's perceived ability to distinguish real from false stories and people's actual abilities may play an important which was previously unrecognized role in the spread of false information online, providing key insight into the dissemination of misinformation.

James Ducker

Written by

James Ducker

James completed his bachelor in Science studying Zoology at the University of Manchester, with his undergraduate work culminating in the study of the physiological impacts of ocean warming and hypoxia on catsharks. He then pursued a Masters in Research (MRes) in Marine Biology at the University of Plymouth focusing on the urbanization of coastlines and its consequences for biodiversity.  


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