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We Only Believe in News That We Doctored Ourselves: The Connection Between Partisanship and Political Fake News

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In this research we aimed to explore the importance of partisanship behind the belief in wish-fulfilling political fake news. We tested the role of political orientation, partisanship, and conspiracy mentality in the acceptance of pro- and anti-government pipedream fake news. Using a representative survey ( N = 1,000) and a student sample ( N = 382) in Hungary, we found that partisanship predicted belief in political fake news more strongly than conspiracy mentality, and these connections were mediated by the perceived credibility of source (independent journalism vs. political propaganda) and economic sentiment. Our findings suggest that political bias can be more important in predicting acceptance of pipedream political fake news than conspiracy mentality.
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Original Article
We Only Believe in News That
We Doctored Ourselves
The Connection Between Partisanship and
Political Fake News
Laura Faragó
1,2
, Anna Kende
2
, and Péter Krekó
2,3
1
Doctoral School of Psychology, ELTE Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary
2
Institute of Psychology, ELTE Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary
3
Political Capital Institute, Budapest, Hungary
Abstract: In this research we aimed to explore the importance of partisanship behind the belief in wish-fulfilling political fake news. We tested
the role of political orientation, partisanship, and conspiracy mentality in the acceptance of pro- and anti-government pipedream fake news.
Using a representative survey (N= 1,000) and a student sample (N= 382) in Hungary, we found that partisanship predicted belief in political
fake news more strongly than conspiracy mentality, and these connections were mediated by the perceived credibility of source (independent
journalism vs. political propaganda) and economic sentiment. Our findings suggest that political bias can be more important in predicting
acceptance of pipedream political fake news than conspiracy mentality.
Keywords: fake news, partisanship, political orientation, conspiracy mentality, economic sentiment
Fake news can be defined as fabricated information,
which is deliberately created to misinform readers (Allcott
&Gentzkow,2017). In its appearance, it often mimics news
media content (Lazer et al., 2018). Fake news has become
an important political phenomenon in the Western world,
probably even a decisive factor in the 2016 US elections
(Allcott & Gentzkow, 2017). An Ipsos poll conducted for
BuzzFeed News showed that 75% of Americans could be
deceived by fake news headlines (Silverman & Singer-Vine,
2016). Fake news spread faster and more extensively than
real news, mainly due to its novelty and ability to induce
emotions. For instance, 66% of Hungarians think that the
influx of immigrants is the top threat for Hungary (Pew
Research Center, 2017), and this is the result of the system-
atic disinformation and migration related fake news spread
by the Hungarian government (Barlai & Sik, 2017;Juhász&
Szicherle, 2017). Of course, the phenomenon of fake news
is not new. Lippmann (1933) already predicted it 85 years
ago that stereotypes will be spread by misinformation in
the media, building a non-existent realityabout the nat-
ure of ethnic groups. But the novelty of the situation is that
social media provides more efficient tools for spreading
fake news than ever (Lazer et al., 2017).
One set of explanations for why people accept fake news
as real emphasize the nature of information processing.
According to these cognitive explanations, people are
vulnerable to fake news because they rely on heuristics
and superficial information processing (e.g., Metzger,
Flanagin, & Medders, 2010), meaning that they evaluate
information in a cognitively effortless manner. For exam-
ple, headlines can create first impressions that affect read-
ersmemories, distorting the content of the entire
news item even if people read the entire article (Ecker,
Lewandowsky, Chang, & Pillai, 2014).
Another set of explanations (not necessarily in contradic-
tion with the cognitive approach) emphasize acceptance of
fake news as a form of motivated social cognition (see
Kruglanski, 1996), or motivated reasoning (Kahan, 2013).
The main features of this is that people are motivated to
accept or reject information in accordance with their pre-
existing beliefs and worldview (Lewandowsky, Stritzke,
Freund, Oberauer, & Krueger, 2013; Nyhan & Reifler,
2010; Pasek, Stark, Krosnick, & Tompson, 2015), creating
a bias in information processing.
The term partisan motivated reasoning refers to the
greater likelihood of acceptance of information that is con-
sistent with peoples attitudes and ideologies as strong and
convincing, and the higher probability of rejection of incon-
sistent information because of its perceived weakness and
invalidity (Lewandowsky et al., 2013;Nyhan&Reifler,
2010; Pasek et al., 2015; Taber & Lodge, 2006; Washburn
&Skitka,2017). For instance, the intention to vote for
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Donald Trump predicted perceptions of him as a credible
source of information (Swire, Berinsky, Lewandowsky, &
Ecker, 2017). Both Republicans and Democrats are more
likely to evaluate information as credible when it comes
from their favored politician (Housholder & LaMarre,
2014). Perception of trustworthiness depends largely on
the perceived ideology of the source and the persons
own ideology (Hayes, Lee, & Wood, 2018). When the
source is considered as trustworthy, the information is more
likely evaluated as credible, but it is rejected with higher
probability when the source is perceived as unreliable
(Greer, 2003).
Conspiracy Mentality and Fake News
Acceptance
The acceptance of political fake news can be traced back to
a general propensity to endorse conspiracy theories which
is called conspiracy mentality (Imhoff & Bruder, 2014).
Conspiracy mentality is a relatively stable and general
political attitude, and it is related to prejudice toward
high-power groups, who are perceived as threatening,
omnipotent, and blamed for planning secret plots. Conspir-
acy mentality serves as a cognitive tool for explaining indi-
vidualslack of power, as blaming authorities for conspiring
is a way to cope with negative social identity (Imhoff & Bru-
der, 2014). Conspiracy mentality can be measured by the
Conspiracy Mentality Questionnaire (CMQ; Bruder, Haf-
fke, Neave, Nouripanah, & Imhoff, 2013), which correlates
with beliefs in specific conspiracy theories. Political fake
news is often about high-power authorities, and we can pre-
sume that conspiracy mentality predicts higher acceptance
of fake news about secret and malicious plots of high-power
political candidates.
Fake news and conspiracy theories are often treated as
interchangeable concepts, especially in mainstream media,
but sometimes in academic texts as well (e.g., Tandoc, Lim,
&Ling,2018). Belief in fake news and conspiracy theories
both fulfill ideological and psychological needs (see Allcott
&Gentzkow,2017; Douglas, Sutton, & Cichocka, 2017;
Miller, Saunders, & Farhart, 2016). Fake news breed on
the fertile ground of endemic mistrust in the mainstream
media. However, fake news and conspiracy theories are
not equivalent.
Unlike fake news, conspiracy theories are not necessarily
false, and not all fake news contains a conspiracy narrative,
that is, a secret plot by powerful agents to achieve a hidden
goal (Keeley, 1999). According to Knapps(1944)catego-
rization of rumors, pipedream fake news that fulfills the
hopes and wishes of individuals (e.g., for Republicans:
Pope Francis endorses Donald Trump for president,
releases statement) does not have any inherent
conspiratorial narrative. In contrast, other forms of rumors
contain a conspiratorial component. Bogeyman newsrep-
resents fears and anxieties (e.g., FBI agent suspected in
Hillary email leaks found dead in apparent murder-
suicide), and wedge-drivingor aggressive news has
the essential motivation to evoke aggression and hatred
(e.g., Clint Eastwood refuses to accept presidential medal
of freedom from Obama, says He is not my president!;all
examples from Pennycook & Rand, 2017).
Political and Ideological (A)Symmetries
in Fake News Acceptance
There are three dominant explanations on the relationship
between belief in fake news and ideological-political posi-
tion. The first explanation suggests an ideological asymme-
try: conservatives are more likely to accept fake information
than liberals (see e.g., Allcott & Gentzkow, 2017; Fessler,
Pisor, & Holbrook, 2017; Miller et al., 2016; Silverman &
Singer-Vine, 2016), because of different cognitive processes
among conservatives and liberals (Jost, 2017). Conserva-
tives accept fake news more because they are more sensi-
tive to menaces and uncertainty, and perceive the world
as a more complex and more threatening place (Fessler
et al., 2017; Miller et al., 2016). In Hungary, 66%ofthe
conservative pro-government voters believed that the
Soros planexists, nearly four times more than supporters
of the liberal opposition (Pivarnyik, 2017).
The second set of explanations suggests an asymmetry
according to positions of power. Fake news (mainly with a
conspiracy narrative) can be particularly attractive for polit-
ical losers(i.e., members and supporters of the opposi-
tion) and less appealing to the winners(i.e., members
and supporters of the government; Uscinski & Parent,
2014). The psychological explanation for this asymmetry
is that supporters of the government trust them more and
therefore believe the official media and traditional news
sources more (Bennett, Rhine, Flickinger, & Bennett, 1999).
The acceptance of fake news by supporters or the oppo-
sition of the government is dependent on the content of
fake news as well. Supporters of the government perceive
the performance of the government more positively (Little,
2017), making pro-government fake news consistent with
their worldviews due to partisan motivated reasoning.
When people perceive economic prosperity and feel opti-
mistic about the future, they are also more satisfied with
those in power (i.e., their president; Treisman, 2011). There-
fore, satisfaction (as a governmental performance indicator)
could increase the acceptance of pro-governmental fake
news. In contrast, those who oppose the government
are more likely to accept fake news that is critical of the
government. Krekó (2015) found that anti-governmental
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conspiracy beliefs were stronger among people who had a
more negative assessment of their own, and of their coun-
tryseconomicsituationinHungary.
The third set of explanations suggests symmetry. It
assumes that partisanship (supporting or opposing the gov-
ernment) predicts not just satisfaction (or dissatisfaction)
with the economic situation of peoplesownhouseholdor
that of their country, but also the acceptance (or rejection)
of pro-government fake news (Swire et al., 2017). People
are more likely to accept fake information that is consistent
with their beliefs, worldview, or preferred political party,
based on partisan motivated processing both on the left
and on the right (Nyhan & Reifler, 2010; Pasek et al.,
2015; Weeks, 2015). Republicans, for example, were more
likely to believe that Barack Obama was born outside the
United States than Democrats, as this information was
aligned with their beliefs and worldview (Pasek et al.,
2015). Democrats, on the other hand, were much more likely
to believe that 9/11 was an inside job (Oliver & Wood, 2014).
Partisanship, the stance supportingoropposingthegov-
ernment, can be defined as a psychological, opinion-based
group membership. Opinion-based group memberships pre-
dict emotions and political behavioral intentions better than
any other sociological group memberships (Bliuc, McGarty,
Reynolds, & Muntele, 2007). Consequently, we presume
that partisanship plays an important role in the acceptance
of pro- and anti-government fake news. Putting together
the different approaches to fake news acceptance, we aimed
to examine whether partisanship and conspiracy mentality
are stronger predictors of acceptance of pipedream political
fake news, and whether partisanship is a stronger predic-
tor of acceptance than ideological orientation. We also
investigated whether perceived independence of source
and economic prosperity mediates the relationship between
partisanship and political fake news acceptance.
The Current Research
In order to avoid the role of threat as a confound in our
study, we relied on fake news without a threatening narra-
tive. This allowed us to measure acceptance of fake news
more generally, and establish similarities and differences
in fake news acceptance among liberals and conservatives.
Using Knapps(1944) terminology, we selected political
pipedream fake news for the purpose of our studies because
it fulfills the hopes and wishes of people with a particular
party preference, unrelated to threat and anxiety. The
choice of pipedream fake news also allowed us to concep-
tually and operationally separate fake news from conspiracy
theories, as pipedream fake news does not necessarily con-
tain an element of conspiracy in contrast to bogeyman fake
news, or wedge-driving fake news.
There has been very little research dedicated to the
acceptance of wishful political fake news, as most studies
focused on negative or frightening news content. However,
we argue that understanding the psychological predictors of
pipedream fake news acceptance is both important and
timely, as this becomes a growing phenomenon in the con-
text of growing populism. For example, fake news spread by
pro-Kremlin propaganda outlets and pro-governmental
news outlets are becoming highly prevalent in Hungary
(Juhász & Szicherle, 2017). Nationalist populist discourse
has dominated Hungarian politics in the last few years
(Enyedi, 2016). In this context, fake news serves as a tool
to reshape the political system and to transform democracy
into a hybrid regime (Juhász & Szicherle, 2017). At the same
time, in the increasingly polarized political environment,
the government is also target of some fake news.
We predicted that the acceptance of both pro-government
and anti-government pipedream political fake news would
be more strongly predicted by partisanship (supporting or
opposing the government) than by political orientation (be-
ing either liberal or conservative, or leftist or rightist)
(Hypothesis 1,H1). We also hypothesized that partisanship
would predict the acceptance of pro-government and anti-
government pipedream political fake news, but conspiracy
mentality would be unrelated to them (Hypothesis 2,H2).
We expected that neither partisanship nor conspiracy men-
tality would predict the acceptance of non-political pipe-
dream fake news (Hypothesis 3,H3). We hypothesized
that the association between partisanship and fake news
acceptance would be mediated by economic sentiment
(or the lack thereof) as the perception of good economic per-
formance is associated with positive attitudes toward the
government (Hypothesis 4,H4). Furthermore, the associa-
tion between partisanship and fake news acceptance would
be mediated by the perceived independence of source (i.e.,
written by an independent journalist rather than coming
from a politician) (Hypothesis 5,H5).
Study 1
Participants and Procedure
We used an online questionnaire with 1,012 participants.
Respondents were selected randomly from an Internet-
enabled panel of 20,000 members by Solid Data Ltd in June
2017, using a multiple-step, proportionally stratified, proba-
bilistic sampling method. We did not conduct power analy-
sis to determine the sample size, but aimed at N=1,000,
that is generally used in pollster surveys relying on represen-
tative samples of Hungarian society. The measures pre-
sented in the current study were administered as part of
an omnibus survey. We report all measures relevant to our
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research question and all data exclusions. Twelve respon-
dents, who failed the attention check questions and were
therefore identified to have randomly answered the ques-
tions, were excluded. Our final sample consisted of 1,000
participants. The research was conducted with the IRB
approval of Eötvös Loránd University.
Respondentsrangedinagefrom17 to 77 years (M=
45.99,SD =14.56); 20.4% completed primary school,
23.9% secondary school, and 46.1% graduated from higher
education; 51.1% of respondents were men.
Measures
Fake News
We presented fake news headlines on topics that appeared
in social media the previous month. We wanted to make
sure that familiarity of the headlines would not influence
our results, and therefore created headlines that were not
identical to those that appeared in the media, but they
would continue to reflect actual discourses about the gov-
ernment. Headlines were used because they are the most
influential part of the news as they create the first impres-
sion of the article (Ecker et al., 2014). According to one
study, 59% of the articles that people share on Twitter
are not even read by the person who shares them, and their
sharing appears to be based solely on the catchy headline
(Gabielkov, Ramachandran, Chaintreau, & Legout, 2016).
We presented participants with political and non-political
fake news. We pilot tested the news headlines, and selected
those that were rated as most credible in the pilot test, but
their credibility was different across the political spectrum:
pro-government fake news was more plausible for right-
wing people, while anti-government fake news was more
credible for left-wing supporters. We asked participants to
evaluate how probably it was that the headlinescontent
wastrueusingascalefrom1(= absolutely not probable)to
7(= very probable). We used a pro-government pipedream
news headline, The College of Cardinals of Vatican
awarded Viktor Orbán [the prime minister of Hungary] for
his services to save Christian Europe,an anti-government
pipedream news headline Viktor Orbán was sent to med-
ical treatment due to his increasing psychiatric disease,
and a non-political pipedream news headline According
to a Mexican healer, people can rejuvenate their cells and
thereby themselves.We also included a relatively widely
known real news headline as a diversion (Mountain clim-
ber Dávid Klein could not get to the peak of Mount Everest
without oxygen bottle again this year).
Perceived Independence of Source
In connection with each headline, we asked participants to
rate the probability of whether the news was written by an
independent journalist, or it came from a politician (i.e., it
was political propaganda), using a bipolar scale from 1
(= It was most certainly written by an independent journalist)
to 7(= It most certainly came from a politician).
Political Orientation and Partisanship
Political orientation was measured by self-placement on a
scale from left to right, 1(= very leftist)to9(= very rightist),
and from liberal to conservative, 1(= very liberal)to9(= very
conservative). We also asked respondents to choose a polit-
ical party that they would vote for if the elections were held
the following Sunday. They could select from Fidesz (the
governing populist right-wing political party), Jobbik (for-
merly an extreme right-wing party that currently positions
itself as a right-wing centrist party), and other parties in
and outside the parliament, most of which can be described
as left-wing, centrist, or liberal (MSZP, DK, LMP, Együtt,
Liberálisok, MKKP, Momentum).
Economic Sentiment
Respondents indicated whether they perceived the general
and their personal economic situation favorable or not (us-
ing the items from the Eurobarometer Data Service, 2016):
How do you think the economic situation in this country/
in your household has changed over the last 12 months?;
Over the next 12 months, how do you think the general
economic situation in this country/in your household will
be?Participants responded with a scale ranging from 1
(= got/get a lot worse)to7(= got/get a lot better). We included
a question regarding the general situation in the country
(Eurobarometer Data Service, 2016): Generally speaking,
do you think that things are going in the right or in the
wrong direction in Hungary?Answerstothisquestionran-
ged between 1(=verybad)and7(=verygood).The reliabil-
ity of the 5-item index was very good (α=.91). We
conducted an exploratory factor analysis, and the items
constituted one factor with an explained variance of
66.94% with factor loadings between .69.91 (KMO = .79).
Conspiracy Mentality
We measured conspiracy mentality using the CMQ (Bruder
et al., 2013) with five items. Respondents rated their agree-
ment with the statements using percentages ranging from
0%(codedas1)to100%withstepsof10% (coded as
11). The reliability of the scale was good (α=.72).
Results
Descriptive Statistics
The distribution of party preferences was the following:
22.4% would vote for Fidesz, 11.7% for Jobbik, 38.5%for
other left-wing or liberal parties in and outside the parlia-
ment, and 27.4% chose neither of the listed parties. As
Fidesz is currently the governing political party, we merged
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the remaining political parties to represent the anti-
government, as this dichotomy fits better to our hypotheses.
We created a dummy variable: government voters were
coded as 1(n=224), and the anti-government is coded
as 0(n=776). We used this dummy variable (government
supporters versus supporters of the anti-government) to
indicate partisanship in subsequent analyses.
The means and standard deviations of the main mea-
suresarepresentedinTable1. Descriptive statistics indi-
cate that real news was the most credible for the
respondents, and the source was the most independent
(i.e., written by an independent journalist). Non-political
fake news followed real news in credibility and in the inde-
pendence of the source. Anti-government fake news was
rated as less plausible, and pro-government fake news
was the least believable of all.
We investigated the Pearson correlations between the
main measures (see Table 2). Conspiracy mentality corre-
lated only with the anti-government fake news significantly.
The acceptance of political fake news related negatively to
the perceived independence of source: the more credible
the news is, the more likely that it was written by an inde-
pendent journalist. Correlation coefficients between the
dimensions of political orientation and the perceived cred-
ibility of fake news were low, suggesting that political orien-
tation was only loosely associated with accepting this fake
news as opposed to partisanship.
Hypothesis Testing
We found a statistically significant difference in fake news
acceptance based on partisanship, F(3,996)=29.76,
p<.001;WilksΛ=.918,η
2
p
=.082. Supporters of the gov-
ernment were more likely to believe that the pro-
government fake news was real (M=2.36,SD =2.02)than
supporters of the anti-government (M=1.75,SD =1.49;
F(1,998)=24.37,p<.000,η
2
p
=.024). In contrast, support-
ers of the anti-government were more likely to believe that
the anti-government fake news was real (M=2.51,SD =
2.15) than supporters of the government (M=1.39,SD =
1.07;F(1,998)=56.52,p<.001,η
2
p
=.054). Interestingly,
non-political fake news was accepted more by supporters of
the anti-government (M=3.33,SD =1.90)thanbythe
government (M=2.94,SD =1.76;F(1,998)=7.49,
p<.006,η
2
p
=.007).
To test our hypotheses we conducted mediation analyses,
using bootstrapping with 2,000 re-samples in AMOS
(Arbuckle, 2013). We used a model building model trim-
ming technique (see Kugler, Jost, & Noorbaloochi, 2014),
and we built saturated models in all mediation analyses.
These saturated models indicated perfect fit indices (w
2
and RMSEA values of 0and a CFI and TLI value of 1).
Then we removed those paths that were nonsignificant.
We used the phantom model approach (Macho &
Ledermann, 2011) and built separate models from latent
variables so as to estimate the specific indirect effects. Par-
tisanship, the dimensions of political orientation, and con-
spiracy mentality were entered in the model as observed
exogenous variables in all analyses, economic sentiment
and the perceived independence of source as mediators,
and pro-government fake news as the outcome variable.
The path model with the standardized direct effects is illus-
trated in Figure 1.
Table 1.Means and standard deviations of main measures of Study 1
Aggregate Government
supporters
Anti-government
N= 1,000 n= 224 n= 776
MSDMSDMSD
Acceptance of pro-government fake news 1.89 1.64 2.36 2.02 1.75 1.49
Acceptance of anti-government fake news 2.26 2.02 1.39 1.07 2.51 2.15
Acceptance of non-political fake news 3.24 1.88 2.94 1.76 3.33 1.90
Acceptance of real news 5.71 1.99 5.43 2.17 5.79 1.92
Perceived independence of source (pro-government) 4.93 2.23 4.14 2.30 5.16 2.16
Perceived independence of source (anti-government) 4.48 2.40 5.36 2.37 4.23 2.35
Perceived independence of source (non-political) 2.48 1.64 2.22 1.52 2.56 1.66
Perceived independence of source (real news) 1.84 1.46 1.67 1.17 1.89 1.52
Left-right dimension 5.10 1.86 6.79 1.51 4.61 1.66
Liberal-conservative dimension 4.83 2.00 6.40 2.13 4.38 1.71
Economic sentiment 3.36 1.47 5.17 1.07 2.84 1.11
Conspiracy mentality 8.02 1.82 7.68 1.63 8.11 1.87
Note. The acceptance of fake and real news was measured with a scale from 1 (= absolutely not probable that the headl ine is true)to7(=very probable that
the headline is true). The perceived independence of source was also measured with a scale ranging from 1 (=it is sure that it was written by an independent
journalist)to7(=it is sure that it came from a politician). The two dimensions of political orientation were measured with a 9-point scale: response options
ranged from 1 (= very leftist; very liberal)to9(=very rightist; very conservative). The economic sentiment scale ranged from 1 (= low economic sentiment)to7
(= high economic sentiment). Conspiracy mentality was measured with a scale from 1 (=low conspiracy mentality)to11(=high conspiracy mentality).
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The paths from conspiracy mentality to the perceived
independence of source, and from conspiracy mentality to
pro-government fake news acceptance were not significant,
therefore we removed them from the model. We also
removed the paths from the dimensions of political orienta-
tion to the perceived independence of source, and from the
dimensions of political orientation to pro-government fake
news acceptance for the same reason. This model, w
2
(12)
=358.78,p<.000, had a very poor fit (RMSEA = .170,
PCLOSE = .000,TLI=.596,CFI=.769). We compared
the total effect of partisanship on pro-government fake
news acceptance (B=.37,p<.001,CI[.23,.53]) to that
of the dimensions of political orientation (for the left-right
dimension: B=.02,p<.001,CI[.01,.04]), and for the
liberal-conservative dimension: B=.01,p<.001,CI
[.005,.03]). The comparison indicated that partisanship
was a stronger predictor of acceptance than the dimensions
of political orientation. In order to improve the model fit,
we omitted the dimensions of political orientation, and this
final model, w
2
(4)=5.52,p<.238,hadverygoodfit
(RMSEA = .020,PCLOSE=.915,TLI=.994,CFI=
.998). The indirect effect of partisanship on the acceptance
of pro-government fake news mediated by economic senti-
ment was significant (B=.37,p<.001,CI[.20,.54]). The
perceived independence of source was also a significant
mediator (B=.08,p<.001,CI[.03,.16]).
1
We reran the
analysis after removing the extreme right-wing party
(Jobbik) from the non-government supporter group, includ-
ing only supporters of left-wing parties. We found that par-
tisanship significantly predicted fake news acceptance, and
Table 2.Pearson correlations between main measures of Study 1
1234567891011
1. Partisanship
2. Left-right dimension .49***
3. Liberal-conservative dimension .42*** .56***
4. Conspiracy mentality .10** .06* .13***
5. Acceptance of pro-government
fake news
.15*** .09** .06 .00
6. Acceptance of anti-government
fake news
.23*** .18*** .14*** .14*** .02
7. Acceptance of non-political
fake news
.09** .05 .02 .05 .07* .09**
8. Economic sentiment .66*** .48*** .41*** .19*** .16*** .32*** .01
9. Perceived independence of
source (pro-government)
.19*** .12*** .10*** .06 .13*** .11*** .02 .14***
10. Perceived independence of
source (anti-government)
.20*** .15*** .14*** .07* .05 .22*** .06* .19*** .29***
11. Perceived independence of
source (non-political)
.09** .10** .09** .15*** .02 .10** .07* .10** .13*** .00
Note. Statistical significance is indicated at the following levels: ***p< .001; **p< .01; *p< .05.
Partisanship
Conspiracy
mentality
Perceived
independence of
source
Acceptance of pro-
government fake news
Economic sentiment
.14***
-.11***
.66***
-.13***
-.19***
Figure 1. The path model of pro-government fake news acceptance (Study 1). ***p< .001; **p< .01; *p< .05.
1
We included those who would not vote for any of the listed parties (27.4%) in the supporters of the anti-government group. If we exclude them
from the model, it did not change the results, as economic sentiment mediated the effect of partisanship on the acceptance of pro-government
fake news (B= .45, p< .001, CI [.25, .65]), and so did the perceived independence of source (B= .15, p< .001, CI [.08, .25]). These results show
that participants without party affiliation are also dissatisfied with the government, and their responses are similar to those of opposition voters
in spite of the fact that they would not vote for any of the opposition parties. Consequently, we included them as part of the anti-government
group in all analyses.
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the same variables mediated the effect: economic senti-
ment (B=.38,p<.001,CI[.21,.57]), and the perceived
independence of source (B=.07,p<.001,CI[.02,.14]).
The results were similar when Jobbik was included, show-
ing that merging supporters of all non-government parties
did not affect the results. This also suggests that supporting
the government or not is a more important divide than
political orientation.
We ran an identical analysis for the anti-government fake
news. The path model with the standardized direct effects
is illustrated in Figure 2. The path from conspiracy mental-
ity to the perceived independence of source of anti-
government fake news was not significant, therefore we
removed it from the model. We also removed the paths
from the dimensions of political orientation to the per-
ceived independence of source, and from the dimensions
of political orientation to anti-government fake news accep-
tanceforthesamereason.Thismodel,w
2
(10)=361.71,p<
.000, indicated a very poor fit (RMSEA = .188,PCLOSE=
.000,TLI=.543,CFI=.782). We compared the total effect
of partisanship on anti-government fake news acceptance
(B=.84,p<.001,CI[1.03,0.68]) to that of the
dimensions of political orientation (for the left-right dimen-
sion: B=.05,p<.001,CI[.08,.03]), and for the
liberal-conservative dimension: B=.03,p<.001,CI[.05,
.02]). This result reinforced that partisanship was a much
stronger predictor of acceptance than the dimensions of
political orientation. We omitted the dimensions of political
orientation to improve the fit indices, and our final model,
w
2
(2)=3.01,p<.222, had a very good fit (RMSEA = .023,
PCLOSE = .778,TLI=.994,CFI=.999). Economic senti-
ment significantly mediated the path between partisanship
and the acceptance of anti-government fake news (B=
.87,p<.001,CI[1.07,0.69]), and the perceived inde-
pendence of source also mediated this relationship (B=
.15,p<.001,CI[.23,.08]). The indirect effect of
conspiracy mentality on the acceptance of anti-government
fake news mediated by economic sentiment was also
significant (B=.04,p<.001,CI[.02,.06]), though the
mediating effect of economic sentiment was much smaller
here in line with our first hypothesis.
2
We also reran the
analysis after removing Jobbik from the non-government
supporter group. Economic sentiment was a significant
mediator between partisanship and anti-government fake
news acceptance (B=.91,p<.001,CI[1.10,0.71),
and also the perceived independence of source (B=.17,
p<.001,CI[.27,.09]). These results also indicate that
supporting or not supporting the government is a more
important aspect of accepting fake news than political
orientation.
We ran an identical analysis for the non-government fake
news. Partisanship and conspiracy mentality did not signif-
icantly predict the acceptance of fake news, and economic
sentiment was not a significant mediator either between
partisanship and non-political fake news acceptance. How-
ever, the perceived independence of source slightly, but sig-
nificantly predicted the acceptance of non-political fake
news (B=.08,p<.042,CI[.16,.004]). Conspiracy
mentality and partisanship were independent from non-
political fake news acceptance, in line with our
expectations.
Discussion of Study 1
In Study 1, we revealed that partisanship (support for the
government vs. the anti-government) was a more important
predictor of pro- and anti-government fake news than
dimensions of political orientation and conspiracy mental-
ity. Both supporters of the government and the anti-
government perceived political fake news through the
lenses of their own party identification. The Prime Minister,
Viktor Orbán is a divisive person in Hungarian society. Fake
Perceived
independence of
source
Economic sentiment
.66***
-.13***
.12*** .07*
Conspiracy
mentality
Partisanship
Acceptance of anti-
government fake news
-.16***
-.28***
Figure 2. The path model of anti-government fake news acceptance (Study 1). ***p< .001; **p< .01; *p< .05.
2
We reran the analysis after removing those without party affiliation. Again, partisanship significantly predicted the acceptance of
antigovernment fake news through economic sentiment (B= .99, p< .001, CI [1.20, 0.77]) and through the perceived independence of source
(B= .15, p< .001, CI [.25, .07]). This reinforces that including or excluding those who would not vote for any of the listed parties did not change
the results of the analyses.
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news favoring him was more credible for his supporters,
who also believed that the news was written by an
unbiased, independent journalist. In contrast, the opposi-
tion did not believe in this news, and thought that the news
was product of political propaganda. The pattern was the
opposite for news revealing that Viktor Orbán was mentally
ill, as the opposition found it credible and thought that the
news was published by an independent journalist, but his
supporters did not believe in it and thought that it came
from another politician to discredit Viktor Orbán. However,
both pieces of news were fake. Partisanship symmetrically
influenced the way people perceived the independence of
source and also the credibility of the news. Conspiracy
mentality was a weak but significant predictor of anti-
government fake news only.
The acceptance of non-political fake news was indepen-
dent from both partisanship and conspiracy mentality,
and it was only predicted by the perceived independence
of source: those who believed that the non-political fake
news was written by an independent journalist also
accepted the news as real.
Although we tested our predictions using a representative
Hungarian sample which allows us to make generalizations
in terms of the population, our findings are limited by the
use of one headline in each category. Therefore, we con-
ducted a second study to replicate the findings of Study 1
with more pro-government and anti-government headlines,
covering a broader range of political situations. Another
limitation of Study 1is that we did not investigate the role
of political knowledge, which might be a possible alterna-
tive explanation for believing in fake information (see
e.g., Miller et al., 2016). In our second study, we maintained
our original hypotheses (except for H3, which is about non-
political fake news), but additionally, we predicted that the
acceptance of political fake news is independent from polit-
ical knowledge (Hypothesis, H6).
Study 2
Participants and Procedure
We preregistered Study 2(our questionnaire and dataset is
available on the Open Science Framework, https://osf.io/
26q74/). The online questionnaire was completed by uni-
versity students who received course credits for their partic-
ipation. We conducted a priori power analysis using
G*Power(Faul,Erdfelder,Lang,&Buchner,2007), and
our goal was to obtain .95 power to detect an effect size
of 0.076 (PillaisV) at the standard .05 alpha error proba-
bility based on the effect size of Study 1.Weaimedto
recruit 208 participants, but we included the extra
responses as we predetermined in the preregistration. After
excluding 11 respondents who failed the attention check
question, the final sample consisted of 382 participants.
The research was conducted with the IRB approval of
Eötvös Loránd University.
Participants ranged in age from 18 to 63 years (M=22.10,
SD =4.74,92.7% of them ranged between 18 and 25 years);
74.6% of them were women, 24.3% were men, and 1%
indicated other or did not wish to answer; 56.8% lived in
Budapest, 11.3% in a county town or city with county rights,
20.4% in other city, and 11.5% resided in township or
village.
Measures
Fake News
We created fake political news headlines which reflect
existing discourses about Hungarian politics similarly to
Study 1. In order to make the results more generalizable,
we presented five pro-government and five anti-
government headlines. We also used four non-political
and three real news as fillers so as to reduce respondents
suspicion that all news is fake. The pro- and anti-govern-
ment fake news headlines can be seen in Electronic Supple-
mentary Material (ESM 1). We created mean-based indices
from pro-government fake news (α=.41) and anti-govern-
ment fake news (α=.42). We covered a broad range of
political situations, which may explain why the reliability
of these scales was lower than the conventional standards.
However, this is not necessarily a major impediment. Sch-
mitt (1996) suggests that if the scales have other desirable
properties like the meaningful content coverage of some
domain, the low reliability is not problematic(for a similar
argument for the use of low reliability scales see Shnabel,
Bar-Anan, Kende, Bareket, & Lazar, 2016).
Perceived Independence of Source
We used a similar bipolar scale as in Study 1,butwe
extended the instruction about answer scale (see ESM 1).
We calculated the mean of independence of source of
pro-government news (α=.63) and anti-government news
(α=.85), and used them in subsequent analyses.
Political Orientation and Partisanship
Political orientation and partisanship were measured simi-
larly to Study 1,butweused7-point Likert scales to mea-
sure the left-right and the liberal-conservative dimensions
(1=very leftist/liberal;7=very rightist/conservative).
Political Knowledge
As there is no reliable test for measuring political knowl-
edge in the Hungarian context, we generated a single-item
measure reflecting self-reported political knowledge: How
much do you know about domestic and foreign affairs?.
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Response scale ranged from 1(= not at all)to7
(=completely).
Economic Sentiment
We measured economic sentiment with the same 5-item
index (Eurobarometer Data Service, 2016)asinStudy1
(α=.86).
Conspiracy Mentality
We used the 5-item CMQ (Bruder et al., 2013) as in Study 1
(α=.68).
Results
Descriptive Statistics
The distribution of party preferences was the following:
12.8% would vote for Fidesz, 8.1% for Jobbik, 56.3%for
other left-wing or liberal parties, and 22.8% chose neither
of the listed parties. We created a dummy variable from
party preference as in Study 1: government voters were
coded as 1(n=49), and the anti-government is coded as
0(n=333). We included those who would not vote for
any of the listed parties as part of the anti-government
group based on the results of Study 1. The dummy variable
(government supporters versus supporters of the anti-
government) indicated partisanship in further analyses.
The means and standard deviations of the main mea-
sures are presented in Table 3, and the correlations in
Table 4. Our results suggest that anti-government fake
news was more believable for respondents than pro-
government fake news, and the latter was perceived as
more biased. Similarly to Study 1, the acceptance of political
fake news associated negatively with the perceived inde-
pendence of source: the more credible the news was, the
Table 3.Means and standard deviations of main measures of Study 2
Aggregate Government
supporters
Anti-government
N= 382 n=49 n= 333
MSDMSDMSD
Acceptance of pro-government fake news 2.68 0.78 2.95 0.81 2.64 0.77
Acceptance of anti-government fake news 3.20 0.93 2.59 0.84 3.28 0.91
Perceived independence of source (pro-government) 5.87 0.93 5.32 1.21 5.96 0.86
Perceived independence of source (anti-government) 3.86 1.72 4.56 1.63 3.76 1.71
Left-right dimension 3.79 1.46 4.88 1.40 3.63 1.40
Liberal-conservative dimension 3.26 1.56 4.86 1.29 3.03 1.45
Economic sentiment 3.35 1.09 4.85 1.02 3.13 0.91
Conspiracy mentality 7.98 1.41 8.10 1.53 7.97 1.39
Political knowledge 3.33 1.57 3.06 1.41 3.37 1.60
Note. The acceptance of fake news was measured with a scale from 1 (= very unlikely that it is true)to7(=very likely that it is true). The perceived
independence of source was also measured with a scale ranging from 1 (= it was certainly written by an independent journalist)to7(=it certainly came from
a politician). The two dimensions of political orientation were measured with a 7-point scale: response options ranged from 1 (= very leftist; very liberal)to7
(= very rightist; very conservative). The economic sentiment scale ranged from 1 (= low economic sentiment)to7(=high economic sentiment). Conspiracy
mentality was measured with a scale from 1 (= low conspiracy mentality)to11(=high conspiracy mentality). Response scale of political knowledge ranged
from 1 (= not at all)to7(=completely).
Table 4.Pearson correlations between main measures of Study 2
12345678 910
1. Partisanship
2. Left-right dimension .29***
3. Liberal-conservative dimension .39*** .50***
4. Conspiracy mentality .03 .00 .06
5. Economic sentiment .53*** 30*** .39*** .11*
6. Acceptance of pro-government fake news .14** .10* .11* .05 .15**
7. Acceptance of anti-government fake news .25*** .12* .15** .14** .27*** .22***
8. Perceived independence of source
(pro-government)
.23*** .16** .13* .14** .13* .14** .23***
9. Perceived independence of source
(anti-government)
.16** .14** .15** .03 .24*** .04 .26*** .00
10. Political knowledge .07 .14** .08 .07 .05 .10 .09 .28*** .19***
Note. Statistical significance is indicated at the following levels: ***p< .001; **p< .01; *p< .05.
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more likely that it was perceived to be written by an inde-
pendent journalist. Conspiracy mentality correlated only
with the acceptance of anti-government fake news.
Hypothesis Testing
Using multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA), we
detected a statistically significant difference in fake news
acceptancebasedonpartisanship,F(2,397)=21.13,p<
.001; WilksΛ=.900,η
2
p
=.100. Supporters of the govern-
ment were more likely to believe that the pro-government
fake news was real (M=2.95,SD =0.81) than supporters
of the anti-government (M=2.63,SD =0.77;F(1,380)=
7.08,p<.008,η
2
p
=.018). In contrast, supporters of the
anti-government were more likely to believe that the anti-
government fake news was real (M=3.28,SD =0.91)than
supporters of the government (M=2.59,SD =0.84;
F(1,380)=25.37,p<.000,η
2
p
=.063).
We conducted mediation analyses in AMOS (Arbuckle,
2013), using bootstrapping with 2,000 re-samples. A model
building model trimming technique was used (see Kugler
et al., 2014)asinStudy1, and we built the saturated models
as a first step with perfect fit indices, and then removed the
non-significant paths. We built the same path models as in
Study 1.
In the path model of acceptance of pro-government fake
news (Figure 3), the paths from partisanship to the accep-
tance of pro-government fake news, from the left-right scale
to the perceived independence of source, and from conspir-
acy mentality to the acceptance of pro-government fake
news were not significant, and were therefore removed from
the model. We also dropped out the liberal-conservative
dimension of political orientation because of the lack of sig-
nificance. The final model, w
2
(7)=8.00,p<.333, had very
good fit (RMSEA = .019,PCLOSE=.810,TLI=.990,CFI
=.995). Again, to estimate indirect effects we used the
phantom model approach of Macho and Ledermann
(2011). The indirect effect of partisanship on the acceptance
of pro-government fake news mediated by economic
sentiment was significant (B=.16,p<.001,CI[.04,.28]).
Economic sentiment also mediated between the left-right
dimension of political orientation and the acceptance of
pro-government fake news, but it was a much smaller
effect(B=.01,p<.006,CI[.003,.03]). The perceived inde-
pendence of source was also a significant mediator between
partisanship and the acceptance of pro-government fake
news (B=.07,p<.020,CI[.01,.14]). When we included
political knowledge in our model, it did not change the
associations between the variables, as it did not predict
the acceptance of pro-government fake news significantly
(r=.06,p<.299).
We ran an identical analysis for the anti-government fake
news (see Figure 4). The left-right dimension of political
orientation was dropped out from the model, and also the
paths from the liberal-conservative scale to the perceived
independence of source, from the liberal-conservative scale
to the acceptance of anti-government fake news, and from
conspiracy mentality to the perceived independence of
source. The final model, w
2
(5)=5.53,p<.355, had a very
good fit (RMSEA = .017,PCLOSE=.770,TLI=.995,CFI
=.998). Economic sentiment significantly mediated the
path between partisanship and the acceptance of anti-
government fake news (B=.15,p<.037,CI[.31
.01]), and between the liberal-conservative scale and the
acceptance of anti-government fake news (B=.02,p<
.021,CI[.04,.002]), and also between conspiracy men-
tality and the acceptance of anti-government fake news (B=
.01,p<.018,CI[.001 .03]), but the latter two were much
weaker mediations. The perceived independence of source
also mediated the relationship between partisanship and
the acceptance of anti-government fake news significantly
(B=.09,p<.001,CI[.18,.03]). When we put political
knowledge in our model, it did not alter the results, as it
-.12*
.14*
.15**
-.12**
.16**
-.23***
.48***
Perceived
independence of
source
Economic sentiment
Acceptance of pro-
government fake news
Conspiracy
mentality
Partisanship
Political
orientation
(left-right
scale)
Figure 3. The path model of pro-government fake news acceptance (Study 2). ***p< .001; **p< .01; *p< .05.
Social Psychology (2019) Ó2019 Hogrefe Publishing
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was unrelated to the acceptance of anti-government fake
news (r=.04,p<.414).
Discussion of Study 2
In Study 2, we replicated the main findings of Study 1rely-
ing on more political fake news headlines that cover a
broader range of political situation. Supporters of the gov-
ernment perceived higher economic prosperity, and were
more likely to believe in pro-government news. They also
considered that the news was more likely to come from
an independent source, while rejected anti-government
news because of it appeared more as political propaganda.
Supporters of the anti-government behaved in the opposite
way. Although political orientation remained significant in
the models, its effect was negligible compared to that of
partisanship. Conspiracy mentality was a weak, but signifi-
cant predictor of the acceptance of anti-government fake
news in line with the results of Study 1.
We also controlled the effect of political knowledge in the
models, and revealed that knowledge about domestic and
foreign affairs did not play a role in the acceptance or rejec-
tion of political fake news.
General Discussion
We conducted two studies to investigate whether partisan-
ship, the dimensions of political orientation, or conspiracy
mentality are stronger predictors of acceptance of pipe-
dream political fake news. Although previous studies
mainly investigated political orientation instead of partisan-
ship (see e.g., Jost, 2017; Miller et al., 2016), in the context
of Hungary the comparison between pro- and anti-
government attitudes was more meaningful, considering
that the opposition consists of both right- and left-wing
parties. Both studies reinforced that identifying with a psy-
chological opinion-based group (supporting or opposing the
government) was the most important predictor of believing
in pipedream political fake news.
If people are generally satisfied with the economic situa-
tion and hopeful about their future, they support the gov-
erning politicians, and they can turn against them when
they are dissatisfied with the results and have low expecta-
tions for the future (Treisman, 2011). Economic sentiment
amplified the effect of partisanshipon fake news accep-
tance, indicating that the subjective evaluation of economic
performance (as a governmental performance indicator) is
an important factor when considering the credibility of fake
news. The perceived independence of source also proved to
be a relevant determinant of fake news acceptance, which
reinforces that trustworthiness depends largely on the per-
ceived ideology of the source (Hayes et al., 2018), so
whether the news is attributed to a favored or an unbeloved
politician (Housholder & LaMarre, 2014;Swireetal.,2017).
Our findings therefore suggest that those who supported
the governing party also thought that things were generally
going in the right direction, and were more likely to believe
that the pro-government fake news was real. They also
assumed that pro-government news was written by an inde-
pendent journalist, and did not question its credibility.
However, supporters of anti-government were suspicious
about pro-government fake news. They perceived that
things are generally going badly, and they were also more
likely to think that the pro-government news was part of
political propaganda and rejected it. In contrast, supporters
of the anti-government were more likely to accept anti-
government fake news while the patterns remained the
same, they believed that things were going badly and
accepted anti-government fake news, while also believing
that the source was more likely an independent journalist.
In this case, government supporters were more suspicious.
Perceived
independence of
source
Economic sentiment Acceptance of anti-
government fake news
Conspiracy
mentality
Political
orientation
(liberal-
conservative
scale)
Partisanship
.13**
-.13**
.21***
.16***
-.16**
.45***
-.12*
-.20***
Figure 4. The path model of pro-government fake news acceptance (Study 2). ***p< .001; **p< .01; *p< .05.
Ó2019 Hogrefe Publishing Social Psychology (2019)
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Our results point to the ubiquitous influence of partisan-
ship and wishful thinking: people believe what they want to
believe. Previous research suggested that individuals pro-
cess political fake information in a partisan motivated
manner (Nyhan & Reifler, 2010; Pasek et al., 2015;Uscinski
&Parent,2014; Weeks, 2015). Partisanship is a strong opin-
ion-based group membership, which predicts emotions and
political behavioral intentions (Bliuc et al., 2007). Our find-
ings confirmed that respondents accepted or rejected polit-
ical pipedream fake news based on their political views
which is in line with previous research about the role of
wishful thinking in accepting fake information (Swire
et al., 2017; Taber & Lodge, 2006). Our findings suggest
that the phenomenon of believing in fake news may be
more symmetrical between people with different political
affiliations and preferences than previous research sug-
gested (Allcott & Gentzkow, 2017;Jost,2017).
We deliberately used pipedream political fake news unre-
lated to threat and anxiety, as it was important to measure
acceptance and not conservativesresponsiveness to nega-
tive information and threat (Fessler et al., 2017; Miller et al.,
2016). Our assumption would be that wedge-driverand
bogeymanfake news show more connection to conspir-
acy theories, but further research is needed to test this pre-
diction. Nevertheless, conspiracy mentality was a weak but
significant predictor of anti-government fake news in both
studies. This finding is in line with previous research
suggesting that the loss of political power results in the
endorsement of fake information and enhanced beliefs in
conspiracies (Uscinski & Parent, 2014).
Generally, our results suggest that the same mechanisms
explain the processing of pipedream political fake news as
the processing of any other information. Acceptance of this
type of fake news need not necessarily be explained by a
separate social cognition mechanism as beliefs in conspir-
acy theories may need to be. This is important, given that
the literature often puts fake news and conspiracy theories
in the same basket (e.g., Tandoc et al., 2018). Therefore,
the story behind fake news acceptance seems to be simpler
while also pointing it out that we need to differentiate
between the psychological mechanisms of accepting differ-
ent kinds of fake news.
Limitations and Future Directions
Although our findings draw attention to some of the less
prevalent aspects of fake news acceptance that was missing
from previous research, there are some limitations that
need to be addressed. Firstly, the majority of respondents
did not believe that the fake news headlines were true, sug-
gesting that using these selections of fake news, most peo-
ple were able to distinguish fake news from real news.
However, differences in the level of acceptance demon-
strated the partisan motivated processes that we aimed to
describe in our paper.
Another limitation to generalizing based on our findings
is related to the specific context of Hungary. Although we
grouped respondents into pro- and anti-government groups
as it made sense from the perspective of power relations,
the opposition consisted of supporters of politically diverse
parties. Supporters of Jobbik, an extreme right-wing party,
did not criticize the government from the opposite side of
the political spectrum. This may explain the weak connec-
tion between political orientation and fake news accep-
tance, suggesting that in a different political context in
which opposition and support of the government is more
directly aligned with political orientation, the two may have
a similar effect. However, our findings revealed that it is not
always the case.
Finally, as our results were correlational, we cannot
establish whether supports for the government or for the
anti-government were the causes of believing fake news,
or they co-occurred because of other factors. Nonetheless,
within the scope of our studies we were unable to collect
data using different designs. Experimental evidence in
future research could support the causality in the estab-
lished connections, and findings could be possibly repli-
cated in any study that combines group identification and
decisions making under uncertainty.
Conclusions
Our research identified the traps of political wishful think-
ing, and highlighted a special vulnerability for anti-
government fake news in times of economic crisis and
deprivation. We also drew attention to the importance of
the transparency of the source in debunking fake news,
and the fact that people are more reluctant to believe that
politicians can offer impartial news to readers. These results
can be treated as initial steps toward identifying effective
ways to combat the acceptance of fake news both with and
without a conspiratorial aspect that future studies can per-
form using experimental design. The rule of thumb should
be not to automatically trust sources from where we would
like to hear things. In case of pipedream fake news, it means
that increase in systematic processing, and identifying the
sources of bias should be the primary tools to increase crit-
ical thinking when consuming political pipedream news.
Electronic Supplementary Material
The electronic supplementary material is available with the
online version of the article at https://doi.org/10.1027/
1864-9335/a000391
Social Psychology (2019) Ó2019 Hogrefe Publishing
12 L. Faragó et al., We Only Believe in News That We Doctored Ourselves
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ESM 1.Questionnaire of Study 2: Fake news replication
questionnaire (EN).
References
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History
Received April 13, 2018
Revision received March 27, 2019
Accepted April 9, 2019
Published online September 20, 2019
Authorship
All authors were involved in all parts of the research.
Open Data
We preregistered Study 2 (our questionnaire and dataset is
available on the Open Science Framework, https://osf.io/26q74/).
ORCID
Laura Faragó
https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1243-7296
Laura Faragó
Institute of Psychology
ELTE Eötvös Loránd University
Budapest
Hungary
farago.laura@ppk.elte.hu
Social Psychology (2019) Ó2019 Hogrefe Publishing
14 L. Faragó et al., We Only Believe in News That We Doctored Ourselves
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... In contrast to our expectations, we did not find a larger propensity to fall for distorted news depending on participants' political orientation, wherefore we rejected H2. Although this contradicts prior research on the association between political leaning and the evaluation of distorted news (Arendt et al., 2019;Faragó et al., 2020), the association between right-wing authoritarianism and political orientation (r = .44 to .51 across studies) suggests that the relevant share of the variance of political attitudes might already have been captured by our authoritarianism measure. As such, our findings are nevertheless comparable with studies arguing that cognitive styles, which are typical for individuals with a conservative or right-wing political ideology (such as a lower tolerance for ambiguity) are positively associated with the belief in distorted news (for a review, see Jost et al., 2018). ...
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We tested whether conservatives and liberals are similarly or differentially likely to deny scientific claims that conflict with their preferred conclusions. Participants were randomly assigned to read about a study with correct results that were either consistent or inconsistent with their attitude about one of several issues (e.g., carbon emissions). Participants were asked to interpret numerical results and decide what the study concluded. After being informed of the correct interpretation, participants rated how much they agreed with, found knowledgeable, and trusted the researchers’ correct interpretation. Both liberals and conservatives engaged in motivated interpretation of study results and denied the correct interpretation of those results when that interpretation conflicted with their attitudes. Our study suggests that the same motivational processes underlie differences in the political priorities of those on the left and the right.
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Following the 2016 US presidential election, many have expressed concern about the effects of false stories ("fake news"), circulated largely through social media. We discuss the economics of fake news and present new data on its consumption prior to the election. Drawing on web browsing data, archives of fact-checking websites, and results from a new online survey, we find: 1) social media was an important but not dominant source of election news, with 14 percent of Americans calling social media their "most important" source; 2) of the known false news stories that appeared in the three months before the election, those favoring Trump were shared a total of 30 million times on Facebook, while those favoring Clinton were shared 8 million times; 3) the average American adult saw on the order of one or perhaps several fake news stories in the months around the election, with just over half of those who recalled seeing them believing them; and 4) people are much more likely to believe stories that favor their preferred candidate, especially if they have ideologically segregated social media networks.
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Individuals are not merely passive vessels of whatever beliefs and opinions they have been exposed to; rather, they are attracted to belief systems that resonate with their own psychological needs and interests, including epistemic, existential, and relational needs to attain certainty, security, and social belongingness. Jost, Glaser, Kruglanski, and Sulloway (2003) demonstrated that needs to manage uncertainty and threat were associated with core values of political conservatism, namely respect for tradition and acceptance of inequality. Since 2003 there have been far more studies on the psychology of left-right ideology than in the preceding half century, and their empirical yield helps to address lingering questions and criticisms. We have identified 181 studies of epistemic motivation (involving 130,000 individual participants) and nearly 100 studies of existential motivation (involving 360,000 participants). These databases, which are much larger and more heterogeneous than those used in previous meta-analyses, confirm that significant ideological asymmetries exist with respect to dogmatism, cognitive/perceptual rigidity, personal needs for order/structure/closure, integrative complexity, tolerance of ambiguity/uncertainty, need for cognition, cognitive reflection, self-deception, and subjective perceptions of threat. Exposure to objectively threatening circumstances—such as terrorist attacks, governmental warnings, and shifts in racial demography—contribute to modest “conservative shifts” in public opinion. There are also ideological asymmetries in relational motivation, including the desire to share reality, perceptions of within-group consensus, collective self-efficacy, homogeneity of social networks, and the tendency to trust the government more when one's own political party is in power. Although some object to the very notion that there are meaningful psychological differences between leftists and rightists, the identification of “elective affinities” between cognitive-motivational processes and contents of specific belief systems is essential to the study of political psychology. Political psychologists may contribute to the development of a good society not by downplaying ideological differences or advocating “Swiss-style neutrality” when it comes to human values, but by investigating such phenomena critically, even—or perhaps especially—when there is pressure in society to view them uncritically.