Human Cognition Colloquium: “Evaluating truth in a fake news era”

Colloquium | February 5 | 3 p.m. | 1102 Berkeley Way West

 Nadia Brashier, Harvard University

 Department of Psychology

Every day, we encounter false claims that range from silly (e.g., We use 10% of our brains) to dangerous (e.g., Vaccines cause autism). How do we know what to believe? In this talk, I will put forth a three-part model of how people judge truth. First, most content encountered in daily life is mundane and true. Reflecting this base rate, we develop a bias to accept claims. Second, our own feelings convey useful information, so we often “go with our guts.” Assertions that feel easy to process, or fluent, seem true. On the other hand, negative affect disengages people from biases and heuristics. Third, we can draw on our own factual knowledge or cues about a source’s credibility, but often must be prompted to do so. This knowledge helps us reject misinformation, but retrieval takes up time and cognitive resources. Next, I will describe how the use of these cues changes across adulthood. A lifespan approach is crucial, because older adults share seven times more fake news stories than their young counterparts. I will argue that cognitive declines cannot fully explain this vulnerability. Interventions in a ‘post-truth world’ must also consider older adults’ shifting social goals and gaps in their digital literacy. I will conclude the talk by discussing implications for correcting false beliefs, a notoriously difficult task. Together, my work suggests ways to cope in the current climate of misinformation, where falsehoods travel further and faster than the truth.