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People can self-generate their own misinformation

People can self-generate their own misinformation

Do not blame partisan news outlets and political blogs for feeding you fake news as there's another surprising source of misinformation on controversial topics – it is you.

A new study has found that people, given accurate statistics on a controversial issue, tended to misremember those numbers to fit commonly held beliefs.

For example, when people are shown that the number of Mexican immigrants in the US declined recently – which is true but goes against many people's beliefs – they tend to remember the opposite.

And when people pass along this misinformation they created, the numbers can get further and further from the truth.

"People can self-generate their own misinformation. It doesn't all come from external sources," said Jason Coronel, lead author of the study and assistant professor of communication at The Ohio State University.

"They may not be doing it purposely, but their own biases can lead them astray. And the problem becomes larger when they share their self-generated misinformation with others".

The researchers conducted two studies to confirm this.

In the first study, they presented 110 participants with short written descriptions of four societal issues that involved numerical information.

The researchers found that people usually got the numerical relationship right on the issues for which the stats were consistent with how many people viewed the world.

In the second study, the researchers investigated how these memory distortions could spread and grow more distorted in everyday life.

Coronel said the study did have limitations.

For example, it is possible that the participants would have been less likely to misremember if they were given explanations as to why the numbers didn't fit expectations.

The researchers didn't measure each person's biases going in – they used the biases that had been identified by pre-tests they conducted.

But the results did suggest that we shouldn't worry only about the misinformation that we run into in the outside world, Poulsen said in a paper published in the journal Human Communication Research.

"We need to realise that internal sources of misinformation can possibly be as significant as or more significant than external sources," she said.

"We live with our biases all day, but we only come into contact with false information occasionally".

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