Yale University researchers published a paper last Tuesday that suggests “delusion-prone individuals” may be “more likely to accept even delusion-irrelevant implausible ideas because of their tendency to engage in less analytic and actively open-minded thinking.” In other words, people who think reptilians are real and the earth is 10,000 years old are more likely to share fake news stories in your newsfeed.
According to the study, evidence suggests that “religious fundamentalists may engage in less analytic and actively open-minded thinking.”
Two studies with over 1,000 participants suggested that individuals who endorse delusion-like ideas (e.g., thinking that people can communicate telepathically), as well as dogmatic individuals and religious fundamentalists, are more likely to believe fake news.
These studies also suggested that two related forms of thinking may protect against belief in fake news: The first, actively open-minded thinking, involves the search for alternative explanations and the use of evidence to revise beliefs. The second, analytic thinking, involves deliberate thought processes that consume memory resources.
Reduced engagement in these forms of thinking partially explained the increased belief in fake news among individuals who endorsed delusion-like ideas, and fully explained increased belief in fake news among dogmatic individuals and religious fundamentalists. These results imply that existing interventions designed to increase actively open-minded and analytic thinking might be leveraged to help prevent the deleterious effects of belief in fake news.
The paper also touches on whether or not it’s possible to encourage these people to develop better critical thinking skills. Maybe, but since most dogmatic thinkers have made up their minds before they’ve even bothered to look at the evidence, the chances are slim.
According to the Friendly Atheist‘s Hement Mehta, it would be a “futile” effort.
“Just look at Creationist Ken Ham,” Mehta writes, referring to the Answers in Genesis founder. “His organization literally believes the answers are in Genesis — that God created everything in six days, a few thousand years ago. All evidence must be shoved into that idea. And if it doesn’t, or can’t, the evidence is discarded, never the conclusion.”
“Searching for alternative explanations or wrestling with the evidence are excellent habits for most people to build, but they’re also heresy for religious fundamentalists.”
You can find a link to the paper here.