Study Reveals that You have become a Significant Misinformation Spreading Source!

People often blame social media and news outlets for spreading misinformation. But do you want to know about another source of misinformation? Well, it’s you!

Ohio State University recently conducted a research, based on which it was concluded that people tend to mold the accurate data provided to them, in accordance with what they deem right. This is common in cases where the data is regarding a controversial issue. However, it should be noted that such kind of misinformation is mostly spread unintentionally.

Lead Study Author Jason Coronel, along with Ohio State doctoral students Matthew Sweitzer and Shannon Poulsen, conducted two studies. The results of both studies were recently published in the Human Communication Research journal and can be accessed online.

110 participants were roped in for the first study and they were presented with brief descriptions of four societal issues. The descriptions were packed with numerical data.

The participants were required to memorize the numbers and write them down for all four issues. It should be noted that two of the four issues were in-line with how people perceived the topics, while the remaining two weren’t.

As per Coronel, various participants correctly remembered the numbers but placed them according to their beliefs.

An eye-tracking technology was also used during the study to closely monitor the participants and it showed that people were actually paying attention while going through the numerical data. It was also observed that people upon coming across numbers that defied their expectations, got confused. This confusion didn’t appear on their faces as long as the statistics were in accordance with their perceptions.

The second study was conducted to assess how the said memory distortions spread and result in increased muddling along the way.


The first person in the sequence was shown the accurate stats about the downward trend in Mexican immigrants residing in America. The person was asked to memorize the numbers and pass the information to the second person in line, who was in turn asked to forward the stats to a third participant and so on.

Sweitzer determined that with every successful transmission of information between two participants, the memory distortions got bigger. While the accurate stat is that the number of Mexican immigrants was reduced by 1.1 million over the course of 7 years (2007-2014), the final participant of the sequence (2nd study) claimed that the number actually rose by around 4.6 million.

Although the researchers cited limitations e.g. lack of data explanation and pre-existing bias findings as possible causes of the outrageous study results, they still believe that the results emphasize on the risks associated with self-invented misinformation.

Poulsen stated that the importance of internal sources can be equal to or greater than that of external ones.


Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/140988606@N08/

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