A new investigation helps shed light on how news stories about potential threats become more negative, inaccurate and hysterical when passed from person to person.
Researchers from the University of Warwick, discovered that even drawing the public’s attention to balanced, neutral facts does not calm this hysteria.
“The more people share information, the more negative it becomes, the further it gets from the facts, and the more resistant it becomes to correction,” said psychology professor Dr. Thomas Hills.
Scientists called this the first research to investigate the impact of dread on the social amplification of threat, and to examine the re-exposure of balanced information on the social diffusion of messages.
Given the outcry over “fake news,” the results have important implications for contemporary society. Indeed, given the digital environment, the constant proliferation of news stories (both legitimate and fake), rumors, retweets and messages are now a major factor in many people’s daily lives.
The researchers analyzed 154 participants on social media. They were split into 14 chains of 8 people, with the first person in each chain reading balanced, factual news articles, and writing a message to the next person about the story, the recipient writing a new message for the next person, and so on.
The sixth person in each chain was given the message from the previous person, alongside the original neutral news story.
In every chain, stories about dreaded topics became increasingly more negative, and biased toward panic and fear as it was passed from person to person — and crucially, this effect was not mitigated when the original unbiased facts were reintroduced.
The original neutral information had virtually no effect on reducing people’s increasingly negative outlook.
Said Hill, “Society is an amplifier for risk. This research explains why our world looks increasingly threatening despite consistent reductions in real-world threats.
“It also shows that the more people share information, the further that information gets from the facts and the more resilient it becomes to correction.”
Source: University of Warwick