Researchers at Yale, Cambridge, and George Mason Universities have developed a method for psychologically ?inoculating? members of the public to mitigate the influence of alleged misinformation.
Though the hysteria of ?fake news? has died down somewhat following Donald Trump?s official inauguration as US President, some scientists have been working on a more permanent remedy to the ?epidemic? of ?fake news? and the rise in popularity of anti-establishment information. Social psychology researchers at Cambridge, Yale, and George Mason Universities have been working on developing a ?vaccine? against alleged ?fake? news and have recently achieved some measure of success in their efforts. According to Dr. Sander van der Linden, one of the leading social psychologists involved in the project, ?Misinformation can be sticky, spreading and replicating like a virus. We wanted to see if we could find a ?vaccine? for pre-emptively exposing people to a small amount of the type of misinformation they might experience. A warning that helps preserve the facts.?
The study focused on ?misinformation? revolving around climate change, though the practice could potentially be applied to any topic. Researchers found that when ?accurate? and ?fake? information were presented side by side, the allegedly inaccurate information canceled out the ?accurate? facts. Taking this into account, the psychologists developed a ?solution? whereby small amounts of misinformation were introduced along with accurate information. As RT notes, the misinformation would then stand out in a more obvious way, and act not as distortion, but as something the mind could immediately compare to the correct information. This combination was found to prevent a shift of the resulting opinion to either side too strongly. According to the researchers, the point of this psychological ?vaccine? is to create ?a cognitive repertoire that helps build up resistance to misinformation.?
Over 2,000 people participated in the study, which sampled Republicans, Democrats, and Independents in equal quantities. The results ultimately showed that most popular ?falsehood? among the sampled groups was that there is no scientific consensus on climate change, though belief in this idea was successfully manipulated by adding the ?correct statement? that 97% of scientists agree on man-made climate change as scientific consensus was previously found to be highly influential in determining public opinion. Viewing this ?correct opinion? in isolation led to a 20% increase in agreement with that statement. In contrast, those viewing only the ?false opinion? changed their views negatively by only 9%. However, the ?inoculation? method was found to turn respondents back against the ?false opinion?, leading to a 6.5% increase in those agreeing with the ?correct? statement.
Critics of the study and its methodology have pointed out that such tactics have been widely used in the past by fossil fuel and big tobacco companies in order to hamper public acceptance of scientific consensus, at risk to their own health. Yet, in the era of ?fake news,? it seems more likely that establishment figures and organizations wishing to stamp out any controversial or alternative viewpoint could easily use the findings of this study to more successfully manipulate?the public opinion. Ultimately, the study?s lead psychologist noted that this research essentially proves that there is room for change in opinion in even the most stubborn individual.
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