People who tend to trust their intuition or believe that the facts they hear are politically biased are more likely to stand behind inaccurate beliefs and ‘fake news’, a study suggests. Those who rely on concrete evidence to form their beliefs are less likely to have misperceptions about high-profile scientific and political issues, said Kelly Garrett, the lead researcher from The Ohio State University in the US.
Scientific and political misperceptions are dangerously common in the US today, researchers said. “The willingness of large minorities of Americans to embrace falsehoods and conspiracy theories poses a threat to society’s ability to make well-informed decisions about pressing matters,” Garrett said.
“A lot of attention is paid to our political motivations, and while political bias is a reality, we shouldn’t lose track of the fact that people have other kinds of biases too,” he said. They examined data from three surveys that included anywhere from 500 to almost 1,000 participants.
Their aim was to better understand how people form their beliefs and how that might contribute to their willingness to accept ideas with little or no evidence to support them. They looked at how participants responded to 12 questions including “I trust my gut to tell me what’s true and what’s not,” “Evidence is more important than whether something feels true” and “Facts are dictated by those in power.”
They used responses to these questions to assess people’s faith in intuition, their need for evidence, and their belief
that “truth” is political. “These are characteristics that we expected would be important above and beyond the role of partisanship,” Garrett said.
“We’re tapping into something about people’s understanding of the world, something about how they think about what they know, how they know it and what is true,” he said. The researchers compared how participants’ approach to deciding what is true was related to their beliefs about hot-button topics.
The study included questions about the debunked link between vaccines and autism and the science-based connection between human activity and climate change. Researchers found that people who believe that truth is shaped by politics and power are more likely to embrace falsehoods. On the other hand, those who rely on evidence were less likely to believe those falsehoods.
The researchers also evaluated survey respondents’ tendency to agree with seven well-known conspiracy theories. More than 45 per cent said they did not buy that John F Kennedy was murdered by Lee Harvey Oswald alone; 33 per cent agreed that the US government was behind the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr and 32 per cent said Princess Diana’s death was orchestrated by the British royal family.
A belief that truth is political was the strongest predictor of whether someone would buy into conspiracy theories. Garrett also found that those who rely on intuition to assess the truth had a stronger tendency to endorse conspiracies. The research was published in the journal PLOS ONE.
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