Cognitive reflection and curiosity

Individuals who are better at engaging in analytical thinking may be more capable of accepting corrections, including counter-attitudinal ones. Analytical thinking is often measured by the cognitive reflection test (CRT), on which individuals perform better if they are able to ‘reflect on a question and resist reporting the first response that comes to mind’ (Frederick 2005). There are two competing arguments on whether cognitive reflection mitigates or exacerbates the propensity to engage in biased processing of corrections (Pennycook and Rand 2019). First, ‘classical reasoning approaches’, including dual-process theory, usually expect that more deliberative or analytical processing can lead to better judgments: for example, studies have shown that people who score high in analytical thinking are less likely to believe in paranormal and conspiracy concepts (Pennycook et al. 2015) and more likely to endorse scientific conclusions on evolution (Gervais 2015). On the other hand, research on motivated reasoning has offered evidence that cognitive reflection actually promotes the formation and maintenance of beliefs congruent with one’s identity and leads to a higher chance of ‘System 2 motivated reasoning’ (Kahan 2013) or opinion polarisation (Kahan et al. 2012).

Research that directly tests these competitive mechanisms in processing corrections is still scarce. Some initial evidence comes from Penny cook and Rand (2019), who found that better performance in analytical thinking was associated with more accurate judgment on whether a news headline was real or fake. Further, such relationship between analytical thinking and misinformation detection was unrelated to how closely the news headline aligned with one’s political ideology' — which suggests that the reason for susceptibility to misinformation is ‘lazy, not biased’ (Pennycook and Rand 2019).

Personal interest in or curiosity about a particular topic may also mitigate motivated reasoning. Kahan et al. (2017) developed a scale of science curiosity and found that while more science comprehension led to a partisan-motivated perception of global warming and fracking (in line with ‘System 2 motivated reasoning’argument), science curiosity counteracted the tendency to engage in motivated reasoning. Further, those who had low to modest science curiosity actively sought out unsurprising, congruent information, and those who had high science curiosity showed a high preference for surprising information, even when it was identity incongruent.

News literacy

People who are less able to navigate the changing media environment may also be more susceptible to misinformation as well as less able to understand and process corrections. In an observational study of sharing behavior during the 2016 election, Guess et al. (2019a) found that people over 65 years old, so-called digital immigrants, shared nearly seven times as much online misinformation as ‘digital natives’ aged 18 to 29. Vraga and Tully (2019) also found that those who with higher ‘news literacy’ (i.e. those with more knowledge about media industries, systems, and effects) shared less news and political content on social media and were more sceptical of information quality on social media.

Recent attempts to improve news literacy among the public have generated both hope and caveats. Simple intervention such as a general warning of online misinformation (Clayton et al. 2019) and news literacy intervention with more detailed tips on spotting misinformation (Guess et al. 2019b) can help people perceive false headlines as less accurate, even when the false headlines are congenial to their political identity. However, the increased scepticism of false headlines also had a spillover effect, leading people to become more sceptical of true news headlines (Clayton et al. 2019; Guess et al. 2019b). While research has not specificallyexamined whether this spillover effect extends to corrections, it is plausible that by increasing scepticism of all information, news literacy interventions may also make people less inclined to believe corrections.

Further, the effects of news literacy interventions may not last over time (Guess et al. 2019b). Another concern is the practicality of these interventions in the real-world media environment as, in most studies, participants were exposed to a message provided by researchers in an experimental setting. Tully et al. (2019) found evidence that a ‘promoted tweet’ (Twitters paid post) encouraging users to be critical news consumers can mitigate the effect of exposure to misinformation on GMOs and flu vaccines. However, the effect was not consistent across experiments. In addition, most experimental interventions designed to increase news literacy are focused on changing how people process misinformation. More research is needed to understand how news literacy interventions might also affect how they process corrections.

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