How Partisan Hate Leads People to Believe Lies

A recent study sheds new light on why people who frequently watch partisan news outlets are more likely to believe falsehoods about political opponents.

And contrary to popular opinion, it isn’t because these individuals live in media “bubbles” where they aren’t exposed to the truth. Rather, it is tied to the way in which partisan media outlets promote hostility against their “rivals.”

For the study, researchers from Ohio State University analyzed data from the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections and discovered that Americans who consumed more partisan media had stronger negative feelings than others toward political opponents.

This dislike was linked to greater belief in misperceptions about those from the “other side.”

“Partisan news outlets promote a feeling of animosity toward the other side and that animosity can help explain inaccurate beliefs,” said Dr. R. Kelly Garrett, lead author of the study and professor of communication at Ohio State.

“As people grow increasingly hostile towards those with whom they disagree, our study found they are more likely to believe false information about them.”

The results suggest that the link between partisan media use, hostility and belief in falsehoods was more pronounced among Republicans than among Democrats. Garrett said this finding was “provocative,” but that this data alone isn’t enough to prove that association.

But the findings, published online in the Journal of Communication, do offer a grim warning.

“If this (partisan) hostility translates into a willingness to believe anything that members of your party tell you, regardless of empirical evidence or claims made by those not belonging to the ingroup, then the U.S. political situation is dire,” the study authors wrote.

Two surveys were designed and carried out by Garrett and his team.

During the 2012 presidential election campaign, 652 Americans were interviewed online three times: near the beginning and middle of the campaign and right after the election.

During each wave of the study, the participants were asked about how often they used partisan news outlets to get information about the presidential candidates, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney. They also rated how favorably they felt about each candidate on a scale of 0 to 10.

In addition, the respondents rated on a scale of 1 (definitely false) to 5 (definitely true) whether they believed four statements about Obama and four statements about Romney that were false but had been reported in partisan media outlets.

One of the statements about Obama was that he is a socialist and one about Romney was that he believes Mormon Church leaders (Romney is Mormon) should play a defining role in national affairs.

The findings show that the more any individual Republican in the study consumed conservative media outlets, the more that he or she disliked Obama and the more that he or she believed untruths about Obama.

There was no similar finding among Democrats who used liberal media, but Garrett warns against making too much of that finding. For example, it is possible that the differences found between Republicans and Democrats could be connected to the falsehoods chosen for this study.

The study of the 2016 election involved 625 participants who were also interviewed three times during the course of the election season. But in this case, the team focused on just one issue in which partisans on both sides had closely matched misperceptions: Russian interference in the election.

Investigations at that time showed evidence of Russian hacking into email accounts of the Democratic Party, but there was no conclusive evidence one way or the other about any coordination with the Trump campaign.

The interviewers asked respondents if the investigation had confirmed coordination between Russian intelligence and the Trump campaign (a liberal falsehood) or confirmed no coordination (a conservative falsehood). The participants could also choose that there was no conclusive evidence at the time, which was the true statement.

The findings were similar to the first study. Those who consumed more conservative media showed greater dislike than others of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and were more likely to believe the misperception that investigators had cleared Trump of coordination.

Again, there was no similar finding among those who consumed more news from liberal media outlets.

“The fact that we found the same difference between liberal media use and conservative media use in 2016 as we did in 2012 is provocative,” Garrett said. “It merits more careful scrutiny. We think these results provide a useful step forward. But it would be a mistake to treat this issue as settled.”

Garrett said the study helps fill the void left behind after research showed that most people aren’t viewing only news that supports their side.

“We used to think that if we could just expose people to all the information out there, the truth would emerge. The problem is that we now have a lot of evidence that people don’t live in bubbles — they may consume more media from one side, but they aren’t avoiding everything else,” he said.

“Our results suggest an alternative reason why partisan media viewers believe misperceptions.”

The findings also suggest that partisan media can help promote belief in falsehoods about political opponents without even mentioning the misperceptions themselves.

“Encouraging hostility toward political opponents has the same effect,” Garrett said.

Source: Ohio State University


European Study: Changing Roles & Family-Friendly Policies Make For Happier Parents

New research from the University of Zurich (UZH) finds that mothers and fathers today are happier with their lives than parents were 20 or 30 years ago, thanks mainly to evolving roles.

Greater freedom of choice and the increased equality of mothers and fathers have been supported as well by government and employer policies for families.

According to researchers, motherhood is no longer seen as an obligatory part of female identity and fulfillment. It is no longer automatically expected that mothers will give up paid work, and it is becoming increasingly normal for fathers to have a more active role in raising and caring for children.

Researchers from the UZH along with sociologists from Germany investigated how these new societal expectations altered the life satisfaction of mothers and fathers. For their empirical work, investigators evaluated information garnered from a long-term study of individuals living in Germany.

The database provides information on more than 18,000 women and almost 12,000 men who were surveyed between 1984 and 2015. “While in the last few years the prevailing message in the media is that modern parents are under great stress or even regret having become parents, our analysis shows the opposite,” said first author Dr. Klaus Preisner from the UZH Institute of Sociology.

In surveys in the 1980s, most mothers were less satisfied with their lives than women without children. The idea of having a “little bundle of joy” that would bring great happiness — which stemmed in part from the taboo against speaking negatively of motherhood in any way — did not translate to reality for many women.

“With the increasing freedom to choose whether or not to have a child and to shape parenthood more individually, the ‘maternal happiness gap’ has closed. Today we no longer find a difference in the life satisfaction of mothers and of women without children,” Preisner said.

Researchers discovered the picture is different for men: In the past, in contrast to women, men were not expected to take an active role in childcare, to take parental leave or to reduce their working hours after having children.

Although that situation is different today, the life satisfaction of men has barely changed as a result. What’s more, there is no difference in life satisfaction between fathers and men without children.

“Fathers who step up to meet the new expectations placed on them are increasingly rewarded with public praise for their commitment,” said Preisner.

Alongside changed normative expectations in Germany, new political measures have been introduced, such as support for parental leave after the birth of a child and childcare for small children outside the family.

On the one hand, such changes mean mothers and fathers can choose more freely how they want to arrange their family lives with regard to childcare. On the other, the roles and responsibilities are more equally distributed between mothers and fathers nowadays. Both these aspects have a positive effect on parents’ life satisfaction.

Researchers report that the greater freedom of choice and the increased equality of mothers’ and fathers’ roles has been encouraged — and in some cases even made possible at all — by modern policies for families.

Parental leave enables mothers and fathers to share childcare responsibilities and to be involved in their children’s upbringing. In addition, subsidized childcare outside the home, such as that in Germany, also makes it easier for families to combine parenthood and employment.

Preisner also sees another advantage: “These family-friendly political measures are not only significant for equality between the sexes. They are just as important for their role in improving life satisfaction of parents, and thus ultimately of children.”

Source: University of Zurich

New Study Shows Impact of Pay, Schedule Flexibility, and Job Security on Mental and Physical Health

A person’s overall pattern of employment, including pay, hours, schedule flexibility and job security, influence mental and physical health as well as the risk of being injured on the job, according to new research.

“This research is part of a growing body of evidence that the work people do — and the way it is organized and paid for — is fundamental to producing not only wealth, but health,” said senior author Noah Seixas, a professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Washington.

According to researchers, technology and other forces are changing the nature of work. The traditional model of ongoing, full-time employment with regular hours and job security is giving way to gig-economy jobs, short-term contracts, nonstandard work hours, and flexible employer-worker relationships.

Current models for understanding this work are too simplistic, according to first author Trevor Peckham, a UW doctoral student in environmental and occupational health sciences. Studies of a single aspect of employment may not capture important elements of jobs that influence health, he noted.

“Employment relationships are complex,” he said. “They determine everything from how much you get paid, to how much control you have over your work schedule, your opportunities for advancement, and how much protection you have against adverse working conditions, like harassment.”

For the study, the researchers used data from the General Social Survey collected between 2002 to 2014 to create a multidimensional measure of how self-reported health, mental health, and occupational injury were associated with the quality of employment among approximately 6,000 US adults.

“There are many different forms of employment in the modern economy,” Peckham said. “Our study suggests that it is the different combinations of employment characteristics, which workers experience together as a package, that is important for their health.”

Findings include:

  • People employed in “dead-end” jobs — for example, manufacturing assembly line workers who are often well-paid and unionized but with little empowerment or opportunity — and “precarious” job holders — janitors or retail workers who work on short-term contracts and struggle to get full-time hours — were more likely to report poor general and mental health, as well as occupational injury compared to people with more traditional forms of employment.
  • “Inflexible skilled” workers, such as physicians and military personnel, who have generally high-quality jobs but with long, inflexible hours, and “job-to-job” workers, such as Uber drivers, gig workers or the self-employed doing odd jobs, had worse mental health and increased injury experience compared to those with standard employment.

One of the most surprising findings, according to the researchers, was for “optimistic precarious” job holders, which includes service-sector workers with high empowerment, such as florists. The researchers found these workers had similar health to those in standard employment, despite having jobs characterized by insecurity, low pay, and irregular hours. However, these workers report high control over their schedules, opportunities to develop, and involvement in decision-making.

“Our research has direct implications for policy,” said co-author Anjum Hajat, a UW assistant professor of epidemiology. “As we have seen at the local level, Seattle City Council has been actively promoting policy solutions to improve workers’ lives.”

Those solutions include the secure scheduling ordinance, minimum wage, and family leave policies. These approaches show “the interest and appetite for change,” she said.

Researchers and policymakers must continue the dialogue with employers “to demonstrate the benefits of increased worker security and stability on employee turnover, productivity and, ultimately, their bottom line,” she said.

“Using policy and legal levers to influence how people are hired and treated at work can have profound effects on improving the health of workers and their communities,” Seixas added.

The study was published in the Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences.

Source: University of Washington

Fake News Can Create False Memories

Voters can form false memories after seeing fake news stories, especially if those stories align with their political beliefs, according to new research out of Ireland.

The research was conducted in the week before the 2018 referendum on legalizing abortion in Ireland, but researchers suggest that fake news is likely to have similar effects in other political contexts, including the U.S. presidential race in 2020.

“In highly emotional, partisan political contests, such as the 2020 U.S. presidential election, voters may ‘remember’ entirely fabricated news stories,” said lead author Gillian Murphy of University College Cork. “In particular, they are likely to ‘remember’ scandals that reflect poorly on the opposing candidate.”

According to Murphy, the study is novel because it examines misinformation and false memories in relation to a real-world referendum.

For the study, the researchers recruited 3,140 voters online and asked them whether and how they planned to vote in the referendum.

Next, each participant was presented with six news reports, two of which were made-up stories that depicted campaigners on either side of the issue engaging in illegal or inflammatory behavior. After reading each story, participants were asked if they had heard about the event depicted in the story before. If they did, they were asked to report any specific memories about it.

The researchers then told the voters that some of the stories had been fabricated. They  invited the participants to identify any of the reports they believed to be fake. Finally, the participants completed a cognitive test.

According to the study’s findings, nearly half of the participants reported a memory for at least one of the made-up events. Many recalled rich details about a fabricated news story.

The individuals in favor of legalizing abortion were more likely to remember a falsehood about the referendum opponents, while those against legalization were more likely to remember a falsehood about the proponents, the researchers discovered.

Many participants failed to reconsider their memory even after learning that some of the information could be fictitious. And several participants recounted details that the false news reports did not include, the researchers said.

“This demonstrates the ease with which we can plant these entirely fabricated memories, despite this voter suspicion and even despite an explicit warning that they may have been shown fake news,” Murphy said.

Participants who scored lower on the cognitive test were no more prone to forming false memories than those with higher scores, the researchers said. Low scorers were more likely to remember false stories that aligned with their opinions, they added.

This finding suggests that people with higher cognitive ability may be more likely to question their personal biases and their news sources, according to the researchers.

According to pioneering memory researcher Dr. Elizabeth Loftus of the University of California, Irvine, understanding the psychological effects of fake news is critical given that sophisticated technology is making it easier to create not only phony news reports and images, but fake video as well.

“People will act on their fake memories, and it is often hard to convince them that fake news is fake,” said Loftus, who participated in the research. “With the growing ability to make news incredibly convincing, how are we going to help people avoid being misled? It’s a problem that psychological scientists may be uniquely qualified to work on.”

The researchers plan to expand on the study by investigating the influence of false memories related to the Brexit referendum and the #MeToo movement.

The study was published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Good Stories May Strengthen Weak Facts But Weaken Strong Facts

A new study finds that a good story can increase the persuasiveness of weak facts, but it may actually decrease the persuasiveness of strong facts.

Previous psychological research on this subject has demonstrated that stories often result in more persuasion among listeners. But why this is so has been less clear. Is it because stories cause people to focus on the good aspects of a message and away from the negative? Or do stories disrupt people’s ability to process complex information?

To test this interplay between facts, stories and persuasion, a team of social psychologists from Northwestern University asked 397 U.S. adults to evaluate a set of either all strong or all weak facts about a fictitious brand of cell phone called Moonstone.

Half of the participants read only facts about the phone, while the other half read a story about the phone that had the facts embedded within it. For a strong fact, the team used “The phone can withstand a fall of up to 30 feet.” For a weak fact, they used “The phone can withstand a fall of up to 3 feet.”

The researchers found that when facts were weak, a story with the facts embedded within it led to greater persuasion than facts alone. But when facts were strong, the opposite effect occurred: facts alone led to more persuasion than a story with the facts embedded within it.

The findings, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, suggest that stories don’t just direct people away from weak information; they reduce people’s general processing of information. As a consequence, stories help persuasion when facts are weak, but they hurt persuasion when facts are strong.

“Stories persuade, at least in part, by disrupting the ability to evaluate facts, rather than just biasing a person to think positively,” said Rebecca Krause, who coauthored the paper with Dr. Derek Rucker.

Krause replicated the study with 389 U.S. adults and observed similar results.

In a third study, which took place in the lab, 293 people read about a fictitious flu medicine, either on its own or embedded within a story, and were asked whether they would provide their email to receive more information.

While people are generally protective of sharing their email, people’s willingness to share that information varied in a manner similar to the first two studies.

Specifically, stories once again undermined the persuasive appeal of strong facts. In the absence of a story, 34% of participants agreed to provide their email address in response to strong facts. However, when these same strong facts were included in a story, only 18% of participants agreed to provide their email address.

Krause said that avoiding stories isn’t the message they are trying to deliver.

“Knowing that stories may provide the most persuasive benefit to those with the least compelling arguments could be important given concerns about ‘fake news.’” Krause noted.

“But this does not mean a story is indicative of weak facts. Rather, when you feel especially compelled by a great story you might want to give more thought and consideration to the facts to determine how good they are.”

Source: Society for Personality and Social Psychology


How Partisan News Can Impact Political Beliefs

Does partisan news shape people’s political ideologies? Or do people decide to watch political media that is already aligned with their beliefs?

A new study has found an answer to that question: While partisan media does have “a strong persuasive impact” on political attitudes, news media exposure has a bigger impact on people without strong media preferences.

“Different populations are going to respond to partisan media in different ways,” said Dr. Adam Berinsky, the Mitsui Professor of Political Science and director of the Political Experiments Research Lab (PERL) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a co-author of the study.

“Political persuasion is hard,” he added. “If it were easy, the world would already look a lot different.”

Political scientists continue to debate the question of media influence. Some say that partisan media significantly shapes public opinion, but others argue that “selective exposure,” in which people watch what they already agree with, is predominant, the researcher points out.

“It’s a really tricky problem,” he said. “How do you disentangle these things?”

To do that, the researchers completed a series of experiments and surveys analyzing the responses of smaller subgroups, which were divided according to media consumption preferences, ideology, and more.

That allowed the researchers to look more specifically at the impact of media on people with different ideologies and different levels of willingness to view media. The researchers call this approach the Preference-Incorporating Choice and Assignment design (PICA).

One experiment gave participants the option of reading web posts from either the conservative Fox News channel; MSNBC, which has several shows leaning in a significantly more liberal direction; or the Food Network. Other participants were assigned to watch one of the three.

The researchers discovered that people who elected to read materials from partisan news channels were less influenced by the content. By contrast, participants who gravitated to the Food Network, but were assigned to watch cable news, were more influenced by the content, according to the study’s findings.

How big is the effect? The researchers found that a single exposure to partisan media can change the views of relatively nonpolitical citizens by an amount equal to one-third of the average ideological gap that exists between people on the right and left sides of the political spectrum.

The bottom line: The influence of cable news depends on who it is reaching.

“People do respond differently based on their preferences,” Berinsky said.

While the impact of partisan cable news on people who elect to watch it is smaller, it does exist, the researchers found.

For instance, in another of the study’s experiments, the researchers tested cable news’ effects on viewers’ beliefs about marijuana legislation. Even among regular cable-news viewers, partisan content influenced people’s views.

But what does this all mean?

To put the findings in the context of daily news viewership in the U.S., researchers point out that the recent congressional hearings in which special counsel Robert Mueller testified about his presidential investigation drew an average of 3 million viewers on Fox News during the day, while MSNBC had an average of 2.4 million viewers. Overall, 13 million people watched, the researchers noted.

Contrast that with the Super Bowl, which regularly pulls in around 100 million viewers.

“Most people just don’t want to be exposed to political news,” Berinsky said. “These are not bad people or bad citizens. In theory, a democracy is working well when you can ignore politics.”

One implication of the lack of interest in politics is that any audience gains that partisan media outlets experience can produce a relatively greater influence, since that growth would apply to formerly irregular consumers of news, who may be more easily influenced, the researchers said.

But those gains are likely to be limited, due to the reluctance of most Americans to consume partisan media, Berinsky said.

“We only learned those people are persuadable because we made them watch the news,” he concluded.

The study was published in American Political Science Review.

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology