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The Psychology of Fake News

Media outlets, social critics, political organizations, and research groups have identified the problem of “fake news” as a critical contemporary concern.  Fake news is false or made-up information that is presented to convince people of the validity of an idea in the face of a lack of true evidence for the idea—or even of evidence against it. Exposure to inaccurate information of this sort can lead to confusion about what is true, endorsement of incorrect ideas, and a willingness to share the inaccurate information.  These risks, and potential strategies for mitigating those risks, can be explained in terms of cognitive processes associated with perception, comprehension, memory, decision-making, language processing, and problem-solving.  Of course, social, communicative, and technological factors also moderate effects of fake news.  

This special issue highlights work that (a) identifies cognitive processes implicated in the detection and effects of fake news, (b) characterizes the consequences of fake news exposure across people’s diverse discourse experiences, and (c) identifies potential interventions that can help people overcome the allure of fake news.  The overall goal is to develop accounts of when and why fake news informs people’s thoughts and behaviors, with specific attention to relevant cognitive and behavioral mechanisms. 

Edited By:

  • David N. Rapp
  • Holly A. Taylor
  • Jeffrey M. Zacks

This collection of articles has not been sponsored and articles have undergone the journal’s standard peer-review process. The Guest Editors declare no competing interests.

  1. Politically oriented “fake news”—false stories or headlines created to support or attack a political position or person—is increasingly being shared and believed on social media. Many online platforms have tak...

    Authors: Rebecca Hofstein Grady, Peter H. Ditto and Elizabeth F. Loftus

    Citation: Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications 2021 6:52

    Content type: Original article

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  2. One of the many sources of information easily available to children is the internet and the millions of websites providing accurate, and sometimes inaccurate, information. In the current investigation, we exam...

    Authors: Kim P. Roberts, Katherine R. Wood and Breanne E. Wylie

    Citation: Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications 2021 6:42

    Content type: Original article

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  3. Research on the sharing of fake news has primarily focused on the manner in which fake news spreads and the literary style of fake news. These studies, however, do not explain how characteristics of fake news ...

    Authors: Amy J. Lim, Edison Tan and Tania Lim

    Citation: Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications 2021 6:39

    Content type: Original article

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  4. Repeated information is often perceived as more truthful than new information. This finding is known as the illusory truth effect, and it is typically thought to occur because repetition increases processing f...

    Authors: Aumyo Hassan and Sarah J. Barber

    Citation: Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications 2021 6:38

    Content type: Original article

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  5. People often need to update representations of information upon discovering them to be incorrect, a process that can be interrupted by competing cognitive demands. Because anxiety and stress can impair cogniti...

    Authors: Vera E. Newman, Hannah F. Yee, Adrian R. Walker, Metaxia Toumbelekis and Steven B. Most

    Citation: Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications 2021 6:36

    Content type: Original article

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  6. Today’s citizens are expected to use evidence, frequently presented in the media, to inform decisions about health, behavior, and public policy. However, science misinformation is ubiquitous in the media, maki...

    Authors: Audrey L. Michal, Yiwen Zhong and Priti Shah

    Citation: Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications 2021 6:28

    Content type: Original article

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  7. Previous research has focused on accuracy associated with real and fake news presented in the form of news headlines only, which does not capture the rich context news is frequently encountered in real life. A...

    Authors: Didem Pehlivanoglu, Tian Lin, Farha Deceus, Amber Heemskerk, Natalie C. Ebner and Brian S. Cahill

    Citation: Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications 2021 6:24

    Content type: Original article

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  8. College students lack fact-checking skills, which may lead them to accept information at face value. We report findings from an institution participating in the Digital Polarization Initiative (DPI), a nationa...

    Authors: Jessica E. Brodsky, Patricia J. Brooks, Donna Scimeca, Ralitsa Todorova, Peter Galati, Michael Batson, Robert Grosso, Michael Matthews, Victor Miller and Michael Caulfield

    Citation: Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications 2021 6:23

    Content type: Original article

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  9. The 2016 US Presidential campaign saw an explosion in popularity for the term “fake news.” This phenomenon raises interesting questions: Which news sources do people believe are fake, and what do people think ...

    Authors: Robert B. Michael and Brooke O. Breaux

    Citation: Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications 2021 6:6

    Content type: Original article

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  10. Past research suggests that an uncritical or ‘lazy’ style of evaluating evidence may play a role in the development and maintenance of implausible beliefs. We examine this possibility by using a quasi-experime...

    Authors: Kristy A. Martire, Bethany Growns, Agnes S. Bali, Bronte Montgomery-Farrer, Stephanie Summersby and Mariam Younan

    Citation: Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications 2020 5:65

    Content type: Original article

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  11. Misinformation often has an ongoing effect on people’s memory and inferential reasoning even after clear corrections are provided; this is known as the continued influence effect. In pursuit of more effective ...

    Authors: Ullrich K. H. Ecker, Lucy H. Butler and Anne Hamby

    Citation: Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications 2020 5:64

    Content type: Registered Reports and Replication

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  12. To better understand the spread of fake news in the Internet age, it is important to uncover the variables that influence the perceived truth of information. Although previous research identified several relia...

    Authors: Lena Nadarevic, Rolf Reber, Anne Josephine Helmecke and Dilara Köse

    Citation: Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications 2020 5:56

    Content type: Original article

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  13. The illusory truth effect occurs when the repetition of a claim increases its perceived truth. Previous studies have demonstrated the illusory truth effect with true and false news headlines. The present study...

    Authors: Dustin P. Calvillo and Thomas J. Smelter

    Citation: Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications 2020 5:55

    Content type: Original article

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  14. Misinformation often continues to influence inferential reasoning after clear and credible corrections are provided; this effect is known as the continued influence effect. It has been theorized that this effe...

    Authors: Ullrich K. H. Ecker, Stephan Lewandowsky and Matthew Chadwick

    Citation: Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications 2020 5:41

    Content type: Original article

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  15. Teachers sometimes believe in the efficacy of instructional practices that have little empirical support. These beliefs have proven difficult to efface despite strong challenges to their evidentiary basis. Tea...

    Authors: Kit S. Double, Julie Y. L. Chow, Evan J. Livesey and Therese N. Hopfenbeck

    Citation: Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications 2020 5:34

    Content type: Original article

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