While confirmation bias is a problem in all humans, including liberals, conservatives as a whole appear to be less discerning when it comes to sussing out true statements from the shovelfuls of offal served by Fox News, OAN, Newsmax, et al., on the daily.
Conservatives are less able to distinguish political truths from falsehoods than liberals, mainly because of a glut of right-leaning misinformation, a new national study conducted over six months shows.
Researchers found that liberals and conservatives in the United States both tended to believe claims that promoted their political views, but that this more often led conservatives to accept falsehoods while rejecting truths.
“Both liberals and conservatives tend to make errors that are influenced by what is good for their side,” said Kelly Garrett, co-author of the study and professor of communication at The Ohio State University. “But the deck is stacked against conservatives because there is so much more misinformation that supports conservative positions. As a result, conservatives are more often led astray.”
There’s something akin to a classic chicken-and-egg problem going on here, of course. Are conservatives misinformed because they’re fed more bullshit, or because they’ve proven themselves far more willing to take that bullshit, pretend it’s gruyère, and fold it into a frittata? Personally, I think it’s the latter.
The study, originally published in the journal Science Advances, surveyed 1,204 Americans between January and June 2019—before a brimming barge of bullshit led to the smearing of actual shit in the sacred halls of the U.S. Capitol.
Over the course of the study, researchers collected viral political news stories, half of which were true and half false. They then asked participants to evaluate statements based on those stories. The study found that both liberals and conservatives were susceptible to confirmation bias, being more likely to believe stories that reflected well on their side.
For instance, one statement that study participants evaluated was, “While serving as Sec. of State, Hillary Clinton colluded with Russia, selling 20% of the U.S. uranium supply to that country in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation.”
That’s false, and only 2% of Democrats believed it. But fully 41% of Republicans did, even though it’s been debunked numerous times and those fact checks are widely available online. But right-wing media blasted that conspiracy theory out on the regular, and since it involved Hillary Clinton, of course they believed it.
While the study authors concede that Republicans may be more likely to be fooled by bullshit because there’s simply more conservative bullshit out there (“46% of falsehoods were rated as advantageous to conservatives, compared to 23% of false claims benefiting liberals”), they also found that “even when the information environment was taken into account, conservatives were slightly more likely to hold misperceptions than were liberals.”
Why? Garrett isn’t sure. But maybe it’s simply because liberals tend to be more intellectually honest.
The study found that conservatives and liberals were equally as adept at distinguishing fact from fiction in stories that were rated as politically neutral, but when the stories were political in nature, liberals became better at spotting fake news than their conservative counterparts. Conservatives also had a greater “truth bias”—i.e., they were more likely to label all the claims they heard as “true.” Because, as we all know, if it’s on the internet, it must be real.
While conservatives really are deluged with more fake news, that may also have to do with their inability to discern real news organizations from unreliable (i.e., fake) ones. For instance, they might want to reevaluate why a pillow man with a sputtering website should be given the same credence as The Washington Post. Just a thought.
“We show that the media environment is shaping people’s ability to do this very basic, fundamental task,” Garrett told Neuroscience News. “Democracy depends on people being able to tell the difference between what is true and false and it falters when people have difficulty agreeing on what’s real.”
Gee, ya think?
Of course, it doesn’t help when the leader of your party is actually a cult leader who swallows more conspiracy theories in a day than Krispy Kremes. But then an ability to distinguish fact from fiction would have instantly alerted Republicans to the fact that Donald Trump is more fictional than real, so they could move on … and as we all know, that still hasn’t happened.
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