How fake news headlines trigger emotions, new research explores

How people’s emotions are triggered by fake political headlines, and how their reactions determine whether they share these stories with others, has been explored in a new study. The research has been published in the ‘Journal of Management Information Systems’.

“Emotions really seem to matter in terms of spreading fake news,” said Christy Galletta Horner (A&S ’05, EDUC ’13G,’ 15G), now an assistant professor at Bowling Green State University and senior author of the study. “Emotions are often overlooked in research, and I think in this case it might be a mistake,” she added.

Concerned about the growing presence of misleading press articles in recent years, Galletta Horner jumped at the opportunity to study the trend when approached by then graduate student Abhijeet Shirsat at the subject of his thesis on the subject. During the 2020 election season, the team presented 879 participants with online polls and showed them one of eight fake news headlines that covered topics ranging from political scandals to candidate health issues and involved either Joe Biden or Donald Trump. The survey asked if they would share the headline or share opposing information, as well as what they felt.

The team found that the participants fell roughly into three groups. The former was most likely to say they would share the fake news headlines. “This is a group that is just so emotional, this collection of people that we have called ‘hot’,” said Dennis Galletta, co-author, professor of business administration at the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School. of Business by Pitt and father of Galletta Horner.

“So we can’t just say that anger drives everything or happiness drives everything. It really depends,” he added. Another, whom the team called “pissed off” users, had a mostly negative response to the headlines. The majority, however, fell into what the researchers called the “cold” group, which didn’t react much at all and were less likely to share anything.

Participants’ political affiliations also affected their response: unsurprisingly, they were more likely to share negative headlines about an opposing party. But the researchers also found differences specific to political parties. “Independents seem to be the most skeptical of all, and Republicans believed more in bogus headlines, even if they were about Trump,” Galletta said.

The researchers noted, however, that the participants were recruited online and were not necessarily representative of the political makeup of the United States. “It was surprising how many people didn’t care,” Galletta added.

He sees this “cold” group as having the potential to be mobilized by appealing to their emotions. “I think the majority would be people who, if they had their emotions raised, would suppress the fake news” by posting information to counter it, he said.

While social media platforms have recently attempted to counter disinformation by adding disclaimers to posts, Galletta Horner noted that this new research indicates this approach cannot go that far. “At this point, if they’ve invested in the information, they’re going to find a way to explain it,” she said.

For Galletta Horner, any technological or regulatory approach had to be accompanied by an educational approach. “If people become more aware of why they feel a certain way when they see a headline, they’re more likely to pause after feeling the emotion,” she said.

“And, hopefully, initiate some of these cognitive processes where they can judge the source of the information,” she added. While the study focused on an urgent and current phenomenon, in a sense, it has been in the works for decades.

“I’ve had it on my bucket list for many years to post an article with Christy,” Galletta said. “My daughter is studying something that fascinates me, and she is an exquisite writer,” he added.

Ever since she was a child, Galletta told her daughter that being a teacher is the best job in the world. Now that she has her own research lab studying emotions in social contexts, she agrees. “I love what I do,” said Galletta Horner.

“And I am so grateful that he has been a role model for me in this position,” she added. Working together required more than a small negotiation thanks to their different academic disciplines and research approaches. For both, it took expanding outside of their typical areas of study, but that stretch ended up being productive.

“Fake news is a social issue that concerns us both, and there is just a huge need to find creative solutions and different angles,” said Galletta Horner. “But my favorite part was spending a lot of time with my dad,” she concluded. (ANI)

(This story was not edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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