Americans most likely to call out “fake news” also appear more likely to believe articles that aren’t true, according to a new study.
Research published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looking at 8,285 subjects found that those most overconfident in their ability to differentiate between fact and fiction could bear greater responsibility for the spread of bad facts.
“Overconfidence may make individuals more likely to inadvertently expose themselves to misinformation and, when they trust in the veracity of news content that is in fact false, more likely to participate in its spread,” reads the study, conducted by researchers from Princeton University, University of Utah, Washington University in St. Louis, Dartmouth College and University of Exeter.
According to their findings, “If people incorrectly see themselves as highly skilled at identifying false news, they may unwittingly consume more of it and more readily accept it. This may be especially true if the false content conforms to their worldview, sparking less skepticism.”
Among the samples used to survey respondents were headlines from the 2018 midterm election. Up to 75% of Americans overestimate their ability to recognize a false headline. Roughly 9 in 10 respondents believed their ability to spot a fake story is above average.
“This overconfidence is greatest among individuals least skilled at actually distinguishing legitimate from false content,” researchers claim. “Moreover, using behavioral data based on respondents’ online activity, we find that overconfident individuals are more likely to visit websites known to spread false or misleading content.”
The study also found Republicans to be more overconfident than Democrats, “which is not surprising given the lower levels of media trust they report.”
According to CNN, the study’s leader, professor Ben Lyons, said in a statement that most Americans believe confusion caused by false news is widespread, but not many believe they have seen or shared that information personally.
The PNAS-published study also states that “these results paint a worrying picture: Individuals least equipped to identify false news content are also the least aware of their own limitations and therefore more susceptible to its effects and most likely to contribute to its spread.”
The study does not conclude that overconfidence directly causes people to engage with false news, though it does suggest an individual’s ability to think they’re good at spotting fake news and their actual ability to do so could lead to the dissemination of incorrect information.