COVID Fear Opens You Up to Misinformation

vetre/Shutterstock.com

“Fear makes you a closed-minded judge,” a researcher said.

Fear in response to COVID-19 causes people to think more rigidly and makes it harder for them to recognize misinformation and more likely to spread it, according to new research.

In the binational study conducted during the early months of the pandemic, researchers examined the influence of fear of COVID-19 on several social and cognitive factors among 565 adults living in Italy and the US.

The greater effect coronavirus fears had on an individual, the more likely they were to:

  • misidentify and spread false or misleading information;
  • accept unverified information and share it, regardless of accuracy; and
  • believe untrue existential statements to be profound.

The researchers also analyzed participants’ propensity for polarized or “black-or-white” thinking and xenophobia, among other factors. The study showed that fear of the coronavirus influenced participants to engage in such rigid forms of thinking, and individuals who scored high on the polarization scale were less likely to detect misinformation and more likely to have poor problem-solving and analytical skills.

“Fear is one of the most powerful emotions we have, and while it’s very useful for our survival, it has a significant impact on the ‘infodemic’ we are witnessing worldwide,” says lead author Carola Salvi, a research scientist in the psychiatry and behavioral sciences department at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin.

Participants in the study responded to an extensive online survey conducted during March and April of 2020 at the peak of the initial spread of the virus. In addition to queries about their beliefs and experiences with COVID-19, respondents answered questions about the accuracy of real and fake news articles created by the researchers. They were also tested on their likelihood to overestimate the value of certain statements, they solved puzzles, and they answered logic problems to test their reasoning skills.

“In times of uncertainty, people often seek out information to help alleviate fear, possibly leaving them vulnerable to false information,” Salvi says.

At the beginning of the pandemic when information about COVID-19 was sparse and the world suddenly felt unstable, the positive association between coronavirus fears and the likelihood to believe and spread misinformation makes sense, Salvi says.

“Humans have a natural tendency to reduce their own fear and anxiety by looking for any information available,” she says. “They also want to feel more in control of their lives, which is probably why we saw that people who were more afraid about coronavirus started overestimating the value of seemingly profound statements that really weren’t so meaningful.”

Fear of COVID-19 also had some positive effects, according to the study. Greater fear was associated with participants seeking out information about the virus, efforts to avoid infection, and a desire to share real news with others.

“Fear makes you a closed-minded judge,” says Salvi, who warns against sharing information if there’s a question of its accuracy. She recommends a careful approach when consuming news media, with an acute awareness of the power emotions can have on humans’ ability to remain rational in the face of fear.

The research appears in the journal Frontiers in Communication.

Additional researchers from the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, Italy contributed to the work, which received support from The Creativity Post.

This article was originally published in Futurity. It has been republished under the Attribution 4.0 International license.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.