The More We See Intentionally Misleading Articles, the More Likely We Are to Share Them

a person with short hair reading a newspaper that is on fire
Image by Pexels / CC 0

Just because something’s said a lot, it doesn’t mean it’s true. And just because a post goes viral, it doesn’t mean it’s full of actual information.

You might be going “well, duh.” Obvious, right?

Well sorta. Because while most of us know this with our conscious minds, when it comes to our behaviors and how we react to things in the real world… well, it’s not always so clearcut.

In fact, a recent study showed that people were more likely to share articles if they encountered them more frequently. In fact, this pattern held even when the articles in question were clearly labeled as false.

The fact that they were being shared by others actually seemed to be a stronger signal of trustworthiness than explicit labeling that they were false.

Ruh roh raggy.

The researchers made sure in the study to statistically account for how likable and popular the articles themselves were. Even with that done, the pattern still held, suggesting that things that were shared frequently and seen multiple times were more likely to continue to be shared, regardless of their quality.

The researchers suggested that the perceived risk of being morally condemned by others for sharing the information might be lowered so that participants felt as though it were socially “safer” to share the false information than they would have otherwise.

It Reminds Me a Little of Mere Exposure Effect

The phenomenon reminds me a bit of mere exposure effect, another phenomenon I covered earlier in this series:

…because of a psychological principle called the mere exposure effect…we can tend to like things simply because they’re familiar to us. It doesn’t even take all that much, just having seen something a bunch. Advertisers rely heavily on mere exposure effect — name recognition can make a big difference in a competitive marketplace. Even an ad that made virtually no emotional impression on you can prime you to recognize it in the future. And people are much more likely to buy a brand that they’ve at least heard of before.

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This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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