New Study Shows Benefits of Reminders About Fake News

False-information reminders may aid your memory for the truth.

Posted Oct 22, 2020

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash
Reminding people of previous encounters with fake news can improve memory and beliefs for facts that correct misinformation.
Source: Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Fake news is untrue information presented as news. It often has the aim of damaging the reputation of a person or entity or making money through advertising revenue. The prevalence of fake news has increased with the rise of social media. And thanks to Photoshopping and political leaders who distort the truth, it’s often difficult to know what to believe anymore. The concept of "fake news" has likely encouraged many people to become skeptical about what they read or see on television—even the authentic news.

But even if a story turns out to be fake news and gets corrected, there may be some value in that, according to a paper in the journal Psychological Science. Past research highlights one insidious side of fake news: The more you encounter the same misinformation—for instance, that world governments are covering up the existence of Bigfoot and flying saucers—the more familiar and potentially believable that false information becomes. The new research, however, suggests that a reminder that something has been clearly revealed as misinformation can help improve memory for the truth.

Researcher Christopher Wahlheim at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and his research team conducted two experiments with 96 participants, who read factual statements and misinformation statements taken from websites and then read statements that corrected the misinformation with true information. Reminders about the previous misinformation ("The following statement was misinformation presented to you in Phase 1...") appeared before some corrections but not others. Study participants then tried to recall the true information and indicated their belief in that information.

Study results showed that misinformation reminders increased the participants' recall of facts and belief accuracy. The researchers interpreted the results to indicate that misinformation reminders raise awareness of discrepancies and promote memory updating. These results may be pertinent to individuals who confront misinformation frequently.

"Reminding people of previous encounters with fake news can improve memory and beliefs for facts that correct misinformation," said Wahlheim. "This suggests that pointing out conflicting information could improve the comprehension of truth in some situations."

These findings demonstrate that misinformation reminders could diminish the negative effects of fake-news exposure in the short term. According to Walheim, "It suggests that there may be benefits to learning how someone was being misleading. This knowledge may inform strategies that people use to counteract high exposure to misinformation spread for political gain.”

References

Christopher N. Wahlheim, Timothy R. Alexander, Carson D. Peske. (2020). Reminders of Everyday Misinformation Statements Can Enhance Memory for and Beliefs in Corrections of Those Statements in the Short Term. Psychological Science, 31 (10): 1325 DOI: 10.1177/0956797620952797