Culture 3 min read

Study Says "You" Create Your Own False Information

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pathdoc / Shutterstock.com

Ohio State University researchers reveal that "YOU" are spreading false information, and you may be doing it unintentionally.

There are various sources of misinformation in this digital age. From political blogs to news outlets, the media is currently filled with false information on controversial topics.

But, according to a study from Ohio State University, you may be contributing more to the misinformation than you thought.

For example, a recent study suggests that the number of Mexican immigrants in the United States had declined. However, the number goes against people’s beliefs, so they tend to remember the opposite.

So, the more people pass the misinformation along, the farther the number drifts from the truth.

Speaking about the study, lead author and assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University, Jason Coronel said:

“People can self-generate their misinformation. It doesn’t all come from external sources. They may not be doing it purposely, but their own biases can lead them astray. And the problem becomes larger when they share their self-generated misinformation with others.”

The researchers published the study online in the journal Human Communication Research. Here’s a summary of their findings.

How You Create Your False Information

The Ohio State University team conducted two studies.

In the first study, the researchers presented participants with numerical pieces of information on four societal issues. While the first two issues matched people’s perception of the topic, the other two didn’t.

For example, the general belief is that the population of Mexican immigrants in the United States increased between 2007 and 2014. Meanwhile, the number dropped from 12.8 million in 2007 to 11.7 million in 2014.

Findings from the first study suggested that people will remember the numerical relationship when the statistics are consistent with how they view the world. However, when the numbers go against their perception, the participants recognized it in a way that supported their bias.

We had instances where participants got the numbers exactly correct—11.7 and 12.8—but they would flip them around,” Coronel said.

“They weren’t guessing—they got the numbers right. But their biases were leading them to misremember the direction they were going.”

How We Spread Misinformation in Our Daily Lives

For the second part of the study, the researchers wanted to understand how the memory distortion spread. How does this misinformation grow in our everyday lives?

So, they designed a study that’s similar to the game of “telephone.”

The first person in the telephone chain would see the accurate statistics on the Mexican immigrants living in the United States. They would then write it down and pass the information along to the second person.

Similarly, the second person would repeat the process and pass it to the third, and so on. As you may have guessed, the participants were spreading false information, and the error only got more substantial by the end of the chain.

The average participant said that the Mexican immigrants in the United States increased by 4.6 million in the last seven years.

Like most researches, the telephone game study had some limitations. However, it suggests that misinformation in the outside world is just as significant as the internal sources.

Read More: OpenAI Makes its Fake News Bot Accessible to All

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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