A project that started out as a class research experience in POSC 226 (Political Psychology) taught by Visiting Assistant Professor Melanie Freeze has recently been published in the one of the leading journals of political behavior. While all POSC 226 students were involved in the study design and implementation, six students (and now Carleton alumni), Mary Baumgartner, Peter Bruno, Jacob R. Gunderson, Joshua Olin, Morgan Quinn Ross, and Justine Szafran, provided valuable contributions as co-authors for the resulting article that was written and subjected to a great deal of revision in the post-class period.
The article, “Fake Claims of Fake News: Political Misinformation, Warnings, and the Tainted Truth Effect,” replicates and extends an experimental research design originally used to understand the influence of misinformation and warnings on eyewitness testimony in the field of social cognition and forensics. Our study considers how misinformation warnings can taint accurate political news and lead people to discard correct information, effectively “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
At face value, misinformation threatens democratic proceedings if it can influence and shape public opinion and social decisions. Yet our findings suggest we must also be careful to not ignore the negative consequences of invalid misinformation warnings, most notably their ability to reduce the credibility and acceptance of legitimate news.