A new study has revealed that people who overrate their political knowledge are more likely to fall for conspiracy theories and fake propaganda.
The study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, surveyed 394 subjects from the United States before and after the 2016 presidential elections. The research team asked the participants to expound on how well they understood six key political policies in as detailed a manner as possible.
The results showed that people who had a superfluous knowledge of the policies were more likely to believe in fake ideas and conspiracy theories, such as ones which claim that government agents or clandestine groups are responsible for carrying out major world events.
Study author Joseph A. Vitriol, a postdoctoral research associate at Lehigh University, said that unlike the earlier social understanding that conspiracy theories were pushed by politically disengaged groups, the truth is that fake news is more easily consumed by politically active groups — just that these groups might place too much confidence in their understanding of politics and political philosophy.
“We find that inflated confidence in one’s understanding of politics and public policy is associated with the tendency to believe in political conspiracies. That is, people who overestimate how well they understand political phenomena are more likely to believe that hidden actors or clandestine groups are conspiring in wide-ranging activities to influence important world actions, events, and outcomes.”
The aforementioned study was conducted in conjunction with another study, the results of which were also published in the same journal, which concluded that people who believe that values important to so-called “real America” are dying are also likelier to believe that the media is spreading false propaganda.
The two studies surveyed a total of 3,572 Americans.
“The current political moment is one of volatility and major social change, including increased cultural and ethnic diversity and widespread collective action among members of previously marginalized groups, who are effectively challenging the status quo and seeking change in public policy and political discourse.
“For many members of the public, particularly individuals who have benefitted from existing social and political arrangements, these developments and changes are quite threatening and can motivate compensatory endorsement of conspiracy beliefs or theories.”
While these conclusions may reaffirm what the political left has been arguing about the populist right movement in the United States — that it pushes “fake news” selectively — an interesting aspect of the study was also that it concluded that supporters of the losing candidate of the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, were more likely to endorse conspiracy theories about the election.
“Clinton supporters who were overconfident about their political knowledge became even more likely to endorse conspiracy beliefs after she was defeated,” the study revealed.