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Sunday, December 6, 2020

The Value of Not Knowing: Partisan Cue-Taking and Belief Updating of the Uninformed, the Ambiguous, and the Misinformed

Jianing Li & Michael W Wagner
Journal of Communication, Volume 70,
Issue 5, October 2020, Pages 646–669.


The problem of a misinformed citizenry is often used to motivate research on misinformation and its corrections. However, researchers know little about how differences in informedness affect how well corrective information helps individuals develop knowledge about current events. We introduce a Differential Informedness Model that distinguishes between three types of individuals, that is, the uninformed, the ambiguous, and the misinformed, and establish their differences with two experiments incorporating multiple partisan cues and issues. Contrary to the common impression, the U.S. public is largely uninformed rather than misinformed of a wide range of factual claims verified by journalists. Importantly, we find that the success of belief updating after exposure to corrective information (via a fact-checking article) is dependent on the presence, the certainty, and the accuracy of one’s prior belief. Uninformed individuals are more likely to update their beliefs than misinformed individuals after exposure to corrective information. Interestingly, the ambiguous individuals, regardless of whether their uncertain guesses were correct, do not differ from uninformed individuals with respect to belief updating.

From the Discussion Section

First, and contrary to the impression that many citizens are misinformed, the majority of our respondents are uninformed of a wide range of claims important enough to be verified by journalists. Only a small group of respondents hold confident, inaccurate beliefs.  This builds on the work of Pasek et al. (2015) by distinguishing between the uninformed, who admit that they “don’t know,” the ambiguous, who take a guess with varying degrees of accuracy, and the misinformed, who hold steadfast false beliefs. In the current environment where concerns over misinformation often lead to heightened attention to belief accuracy, our findings highlight the necessity to bridge between work on political ignorance and misperception and the benefit of leveraging belief accuracy, belief presence and belief certainty to better assess public informedness.

(emphasis added)