Groundbreaking Study Discovers Gen Z and Millennials as Highly Prone to Misinformation, Especially Active Online Users

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Psychologists from the University of Cambridge have created an innovative “misinformation susceptibility test” to determine an individual’s vulnerability to fabricated news that circulates online. The test, which takes only two minutes to complete, has been proven effective through extensive experiments involving over 8,000 participants. Polling organization YouGov has employed this test to assess Americans’ susceptibility to fake headlines.

The first survey utilizing the new 20-point test, named “MIST” by researchers, demonstrates that on average, adult U.S. citizens correctly identified two-thirds (65%) of the headlines as real or fake. However, the survey also revealed that young adults are less skilled than older adults at discerning false headlines, and individuals who spend more recreational time online are less capable of distinguishing between real news and misinformation. These findings contradict the common belief that older, less digitally-savvy individuals are more prone to falling for fake news.

The study introducing the validated MIST has been published in the journal Behavior Research Methods, while the polling data is now available on the YouGov US website.

The researchers encourage the public to take the test themselves through the link provided (https://yourmist.streamlit.app/). Upon selecting true or false for 20 headlines, users receive a set of scores and a resilience ranking compared to the wider U.S. population. The entire test can be completed in under two minutes.

“Misinformation is a significant challenge for democracies in today’s digital era,” said Prof Sander van der Linden, senior author of the MIST study and head of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab. “We are witnessing the creation of polarized belief systems in major nations due to online falsehoods, along with consequences such as the attempted Capitol Hill insurrection. To effectively combat misinformation, we need a unified measurement of susceptibility to fake news, which is exactly what our test provides,” added van der Linden, who also authored the new book Foolproof.

The Cambridge team developed assessment tools to determine the appropriate level and mixture of genuine and fake headlines, resulting in the most reliable test results. Real news examples were sourced from reputable outlets like the Pew Research Center and Reuters, while false but substantiated headlines, resembling misinformation encountered online, were generated using artificial intelligence through ChatGPT version 2.

The application of AI in this context was described by Dr. Rakoen Maertens, lead author of MIST, as both eye-opening and alarming. The researchers emphasize the value of AI in psychological surveys and urge fellow psychologists to embrace this technology to navigate its future course in a beneficial manner.

The MIST underwent rigorous testing involving thousands of U.K. and U.S. participants, with an international committee of misinformation experts selecting the most reliable true and false headline combinations. The latest YouGov survey involved 1,516 U.S. adults who took the MIST in April 2023 and provided additional information on demographics, political beliefs, and online behavior.

Analysis of the survey data indicated that younger individuals and those who spent more recreational time online were more susceptible to misinformation. Moreover, the source of news significantly impacted susceptibility levels, with “legacy media” outlets like the Associated Press, NPR, and Axios demonstrating higher scores in the MIST, while social media platforms like Snapchat, Truth Social, WhatsApp, TikTok, and Instagram showed lower scores. Democrats outperformed Republicans in the MIST, although a significant portion of both parties’ followers fell into the low-scoring bracket.

According to a YouGov poll, half of all Americans claim to encounter misinformation online on a daily basis. Dr. Maertens emphasized the urgent need to reassess media literacy approaches, as well as algorithms and platform design, in order to address the prevalence of false information on social media platforms that younger generations increasingly rely on for news.

The MIST will enable researchers to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions aimed at combating fake news and explore the factors contributing to individuals’ resilience to misinformation.

More information:
The Misinformation Susceptibility Test (MIST): A psychometrically validated measure of news veracity discernment, Behavior Research Methods (2023). DOI: 10.3758/s13428-023-02124-2

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University of Cambridge


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First misinformation susceptibility test finds ‘very online’ Gen Z and millennials are most vulnerable to fake news (2023, June 28)
retrieved 28 June 2023
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