Can fake news help you remember real facts better?

A 2020 study published in the journal of Psychological Science explores the idea that fake news can actually help you remember real facts better.

woman sitting on couch reading fake news
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  • In 2019, researchers at Stanford Engineering analyzed the spread of fake news as if it were a strain of Ebola. They adapted a model for understanding diseases that can infect a person more than once to better understand how fake news spreads and gains traction.
  • A new study published in 2020 explores the idea that fake news can actually help you remember real facts better.
  • "These findings demonstrate one situation in which misinformation reminders can diminish the negative effects of fake-news exposure in the short term," researchers on the project explained.

Fake news spreads like a virus. In 2019, researchers at Stanford Engineering analyzed the spread of fake news as if it were a strain of Ebola. The researchers adapted a model for understanding diseases that can infect a person more than once to better understand how fake news spreads and gains traction.

Researchers studied how many people are "susceptible" to the disease (or in this case, how many people are likely to believe a certain piece of fake news). The researchers also looked at how many people are exposed to fake news, how they are actually "infected" (believing the story), and how many people are likely to then spread that "infection" (misinformation) on to others.

Much like a virus, this study concluded that over time, being exposed to multiple strains of fake news can wear down a person's resistance and make them increasingly susceptible to believing it. The more times a person is exposed to the same fake news, especially if it is coming from an influential source, the more likely they are to become persuaded, no matter the likelihood of such news being true.

"The so-called 'power-law' of social media, a well-documented pattern in social networks, hold that messages replicate most rapidly if they are targeted at relatively small numbers of influential people with large followings," the researchers explained in the Stanford study.

    Previous studies on misinformation have already paved the way to a better understanding

    fake news concept of misinformation and fake news in the media

    How does misinformation spread?

    Credit: Visual Generation on Shutterstock

    What is the "continued-influence" effect?

    A challenge in using corrections effectively is that repeating the misinformation can have negative consequences. Research on this effect (referred to as "continued-influence") has shown that information presented as factual that is later deemed false can still contaminate memory and reasoning. The persistence of the continued-influence effect has led researchers to generally recommend avoiding repeating misinformation.

    "Repetition increases familiarity and believability of misinformation," the study explains.

    What is the "familiarity-backfire" effect?

    Studies of this effect have shown that increasing misinformation familiarity through extra exposure to it leads to misattributions of fluency when the context of said information cannot be recalled. A 2017 study examined this effect in myth correction. Subjects rated beliefs in facts and myths of unclear veracity. Then, the facts were affirmed and myths corrected and subjects again made belief ratings. The results suggested a role for familiarity but the myth beliefs remained below pre-manipulation levels.

    New research into fake news has uncovered something interesting about misinformation

    A 2020 study published in the journal of Psychological Science explores the idea that fake news can actually help you remember real facts better.

    Fake news exposure can cause misinformation to be mistakenly remembered and believed. In two experiments, the team (led by Christopher N. Wahlheim) examined whether reminders of misinformation could do the opposite: improve memory for and beliefs in corrections to that fake news.

    The study had subjects reading factual statements and then separate misinformation statements taken from news websites. Then, the subjects read statements that corrected the misinformation. Some misinformation reminders appeared before some corrections but not all. Then, subjects were asked to recall facts, indicate their belief in those recalls, and indicate whether they remembered the corrections and misinformation.

    The results of the study showed that reminders increased recall and belief accuracy. These benefits were greater both when misinformation was recalled and when the subjects remembered that corrections had occurred.

    Researchers on the project explained: "These findings demonstrate one situation in which misinformation reminders can diminish the negative effects of fake-news exposure in the short term."

    The conclusion: fake-news misinformation that was corrected by fact-checked information can improve both memory and belief accuracy in real information.

    "We examined the effects of providing misinformation reminders before fake-news corrections on memory and belief accuracy. Our study included everyday fake-news misinformation that was corrected by fact-check-verified statements. Building on research using fictional, yet naturalistic, event narratives to show that reminders can counteract misinformation reliance in memory reports," the researchers explained.

    "It suggests that there may be benefits to learning how someone was being misleading. This knowledge may inform strategies that people use to counteract high exposure to misinformation spread for political gain," Wahlheim said.

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    Every star we can see, including our sun, was born in one of these violent clouds.

    Credit: NASA / ESA via Getty Images
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    This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

    An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.

    Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.

    These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.

    The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.

    This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.

    The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.

    "The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.

    "This just hasn't been possible before."

    Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.

    New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.

    "For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."

    "While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."

    Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.

    Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.

    "We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."

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