#Fakenews is nothing new, despite some president claiming he invented it. But also because of that certain president there is a present surge of attention for the topic of ‘fake news’. This study by De Keersmaecker and Roets published in Intelligence adds some interesting insights on how people with lower cognitive abilities react to fake news in contrast to people with higher cognitive abilities:
- When people learn their attitudes are based on false information, they adjust them.
- People low (vs high) in cognitive ability adjust attitudes to lesser extent.
- Adjusted attitudes remained biased for people low in cognitive ability.
This excerpt from the conclusion sums it up quite clearly:
In line with our expectations, results indicated that individuals with lower (versus higher) levels of cognitive ability were less responsive to this corrective new information, and the initial exposure to the incorrect information had a persevering influence on their attitudes. Specifically, when individuals with lower levels of cognitive ability learnt that their attitudes towards a target person were partly based on negative information that was incorrect, they did adjust their evaluation about the target person, but to a lesser degree than individuals with higher levels of cognitive ability. Importantly, the adjusted attitudes of individuals with lower levels of cognitive ability were still more negative compared to the evaluations of their counterparts who were never exposed to the incorrect negative information. Contrary, individuals with higher levels of cognitive ability made more appropriate attitude adjustments. In particular, after learning that the negative information was false, they adopted attitudes that were similar to those who had not received false information.
Noteworthy, these effects of cognitive ability on attitude adjustment were obtained regardless of whether or not we controlled for open mindedness (i.e., need for closure) and authoritarianism as potential confounding variables. This indicates that the obtained effects are genuine cognitive ability effects and that making appropriate adjustments of initial social impressions is indeed directly affected by cognitive ability.
Abstract of the study:
The present experiment (N = 390) examined how people adjust their judgment after they learn that crucial information on which their initial evaluation was based is incorrect. In line with our expectations, the results showed that people generally do adjust their attitudes, but the degree to which they correct their assessment depends on their cognitive ability. In particular, individuals with lower levels of cognitive ability adjusted their attitudes to a lesser extent than individuals with higher levels of cognitive ability. Moreover, for those with lower levels of cognitive ability, even after the explicit disconfirmation of the false information, adjusted attitudes remained biased and significantly different from the attitudes of the control group who was never exposed to the incorrect information. In contrast, the adjusted attitudes of those with higher levels of cognitive ability were similar to those of the control group. Controlling for need for closure and right-wing authoritarianism did not influence the relationship between cognitive ability and attitude adjustment. The present results indicate that, even in optimal circumstances, the initial influence of incorrect information cannot simply be undone by pointing out that this information was incorrect, especially in people with relatively lower cognitive ability.