Can You Test Your Susceptibility to Misinformation?
October 18, 2023
This post originally appeared on Psychology Today.
There’s a lot of debate in the misinformation research world about whether certain demographics or personality types put you at greater risk of believing misinformation. We’ve written about this on this blog before, and we’ve also commented about notions of susceptibility to conspiracy theories, which are often related to belief in misinformation. When it comes to conspiracy theories, there are some who are still trying to chase demographic factors, like age, sex, and education level, as correlates of believing in these ideas, but much of the field has turned to a collective understanding of the fact that less obvious features, such as personality type, are more relevant.
In the misinformation field, it’s even less clear. Conspiracy theory research has a long, robust legacy, while research about susceptibility to misinformation is newer. Age and education are probably factors here, as is political polarization. There is even some research to suggest that children whose beliefs aren’t challenged when they’re young can grow up to become less critical and less discerning and thus more susceptible to misinformation.
In June 2023, a group of scholars at University of Cambridge, released a new tool: the Misinformation Susceptibility Test. The test, which goes by “MIST” for short, is a 2-minute quiz that is designed to tell a person how inclined they are to believe misinformation. As part of the test, users are given headlines that they must rank as true or false and upon completion of the survey, they are given a score that estimates their resilience against misinformation. Much of the tool was developed by using an early version of Chat GPT.
Studies to test the tool have yielded some interesting results. For example,young people, especially those aged 18-29, were far more susceptible to misinformation than older adults. This runs counter to what we might expect given the sense that older adults are less comfortable with modern technology.
In the end, this tool is a good addition to the toolbox. But it does raise several important questions. Is testing people’s reactions to headlines really predictive of their response to misinformation in real time? While it’s true that fake news is a subset, and an extremely dangerous and consequential one, of misinformation types, a lot of misinformation is not presented this way. In addition, the lack of context is problematic. People do not consume information in a vacuum. They belong to certain groups that confer certain identities that make some information seem far more valid than others because of a pervasive instinct to maintain belonging to important groups, especially those that define us.
Nonetheless, the MIST is a good tool to help raise people’s awareness of their own potential susceptibilities when faced with certain types of misinformation. If nothing else, this can be a good reminder to people to remain vigilant when they read news online.