By: Anju Miura

“Get Psyched” explores the complicated process of human thoughts and behavior to help you understand who we really are. I write this series in the belief that understanding psychological theories will make your life easier, or at least, teach you why life could be so hard. After reading my stories, you’ll get psyched.

Fake news misleads the public about national and global issues. Living in the digital age, we are constantly exposed to erroneous information.

Some news stories are obviously fabricated and exaggerated by unreliable sources. So why do we believe them without a second thought?

R (rumor) = I (importance) × A (ambiguity)

A 1947 study about rumors by Gordon Allport and Leo Joseph Postman suggested the more important and ambiguous the information is, the more it spreads. When there is a lack of information, we want to know more.

When a story is passed by word of mouth, it can be greatly exaggerated, summarized briefly, one-sidedly emphasized or biased by the communicator, losing important details in the process.

Following a controversial issue surrounding immigration since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the National Academies of Sciences, Reporting and Immigration reported immigration has an overall positive influence on the nation’s economic growth.

However, political extremists cherry-picked the report and distorted the information.

HuffPost released an article titled, “Immigrants Don’t Steal Jobs or Wages. Billionaires Do.” Yet, in a Breitbart News article, the author wrote, “Mass immigration is pushing huge costs on to state taxpayers for schooling, crime and welfare, says a new report by the prestigious, government-endorsed National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.”

What’s the truth when different sources have their own version?

Confirmation bias

Subconsciously, we favor fake news that confirms our beliefs and bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency to perceive, interpret and favor information that is consistent with our existing beliefs.

Overflowing with information, the media largely influences our construction of belief and perspective. Once we have established a unique belief, we seek some materials to support this belief. We want to find confirmation in media and constantly look for reassurance of our values.

For instance, if someone believes all school shooters were a victim of bullying, she may seek information that supports her current viewpoint.

Contradiction causes discomfort — we are unlikely to believe the information opposing our own belief. The person may doubt the news that the shooter’s motivation resulted not from bullying but rather, for example, from a psychological disorder.

We barely challenge our own beliefs even when we are exposed to evidence against them. So, it is hard to reveal the fake news that provides us a comfortable narrative.

Why do we believe social media over newspapers?

Although we know information on social media is less credible than one from newspapers, we eventually believe both sources. In 1951, Carl Hovland and Walter Weiss studied the change in our attitudes when we receive information from sources with different degrees of credibility.

When we are exposed to information from trustworthy and untrustworthy sources simultaneously, we first believe more reliable source like traditional forms of media, such as newspapers.

Nevertheless, as times goes on, information from untrustworthy sources will become seemingly credible in our minds. This phenomenon is known as the “sleeper effect,” which is increasingly believing a persuasive message as more time passes.

Some shady Facebook news has no immediate impact on us, for example, but we gradually start to trust it more than articles from actual newspapers.

Since fake news can impact not only our knowledge but also our perception, beliefs and lifestyles, we have to determine the credibility of our news sources in order to survive this fake news era.