Psychological science can help counter spread of misinformation, says APA report

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Washington – Fraud, “pre-talk,” digital literacy, and teaching are several effective ways to prevent misinformation, according to a new report from the American Psychological Association.

Written by US and international experts in the psychology of misinformation, the report outlines the processes that make people vulnerable to misinformation and offers solutions to combat it.

People are more likely to believe misinformation if they are out of their group or if they judge the source to be credible, the report found.Using Psychological Science to Understand and Combat Health Misinformation: APA Consensus Statement (PDF, 1.75MB)He said. It defines misinformation as “information that is false or otherwise misleading, regardless of its source or intent.”

The report outlines the main characteristics of misinformation that mislead people into believing and spreading it. For example, he found that people are more likely to believe false statements that appeal to emotions such as fear and anger. They are also more likely to believe misinformation that paints groups they perceive as “other” in a negative light. And the more repetitive the information, the more likely people are to believe it, even if it contradicts their prior knowledge. These findings underscore the importance of stopping misinformation early, the report said.

The report also describes aspects of social media that help misinformation spread quickly. “Rapid publishing and peer-to-peer sharing allow ordinary users to quickly disseminate information to large audiences, so misinformation can be policed ​​after the fact (if it occurs),” the report said. “‘Echo chambers’ bind and isolate like-minded online communities, helping the spread of falsehoods and inhibiting the spread of factual corrections.”

As a result, “most online misinformation originates from a few ‘supervisors,’ but social media magnifies their reach and influence.”

According to the report, there are two levels to stopping misinformation: systematic approaches, such as legislation and technology standards, and individual approaches focused on changing individual behavior. The latter includes:

  • fact checking or correction;
  • In the first place, pre-hiding or pre-removal to prevent people from falling for misinformation;
  • Criticism, such as asking people to check the accuracy of information before sharing it, or rewarding people for being as accurate as possible; And
  • Formal education or community service to raise people’s awareness of healthy online behavior and media use.

The report acknowledges that there is much to learn and recommends more research funding and industry collaboration to develop tools to understand and correct misinformation-related behaviors. The panel members who wrote the report spent more than a year reviewing the scientific literature to develop their recommendations. The report was commissioned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is part of a $2 million grant to develop effective solutions. covid-19 vaccine hesitancy.

While the panel’s recommendations focused on health misinformation, they could also apply to broader topics such as politics and climate change. For example, these findings provide direct input to one of the main issues discussed EPA Health Advisory on Social Media Solving strategies to combat misinformation.

The report recommends eight steps for policymakers, scientists, the media, and the public to help curb the spread of misinformation and the dangers it poses to health, safety, and citizens’ lives.

  • Avoid repeating incorrect information without correction.
  • Collaborate with social media companies to understand and reduce the spread of harmful misinformation.
  • Use misinformation strategies with proven tools to promote healthy behaviors.
  • Use trusted sources to prevent misinformation and provide accurate health information.
  • Dispel misinformation often and repeatedly using evidence-based methods.
  • Advance misinformation to immunize vulnerable audiences by building skills and building resilience from childhood.
  • Demand data access and transparency from social media companies for scientific research on misinformation.
  • Fund basic and translational research, including ways to challenge health misinformation.

“These psychological science findings help explain how misinformation enters our thinking processes,” the report said. “Our brains struggle to apply knowledge when we encounter new information; when new claims are false but reasonable enough, we can learn them as facts. So everyone is susceptible to some degree of misinformation, even when we know better.”

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