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Surprising Science

Why We Believe Misinformation

Smear campaigns work because people are more likely to believe misinformation about someone they see as different from themselves, sometimes even blatant lies.

We are often surrounded by bogus claims about other people—especially in the context of political elections. But why do we sometimes believe blatant misinformation? A new study from the University of Arizona suggests that our gullibility can be triggered by subtle reminders of how we are different from the person in question. During the months before and after the 2008 presidential election, psychologist Spee Kosloff and his colleagues asked predominantly white, non-Muslim students to evaluate smears about both candidates. They found that cues about social differences, such as age or race, were enough to get many participants to buy into false allegations against a candidate.


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