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Thursday, July 15, 2021

Overconfidence in news judgments is associated with false news susceptibility

B. A. Lyons, et al.
PNAS, Jun 2021, 118 (23) e2019527118
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2019527118


We examine the role of overconfidence in news judgment using two large nationally representative survey samples. First, we show that three in four Americans overestimate their relative ability to distinguish between legitimate and false news headlines; respondents place themselves 22 percentiles higher than warranted on average. This overconfidence is, in turn, correlated with consequential differences in real-world beliefs and behavior. We show that overconfident individuals are more likely to visit untrustworthy websites in behavioral data; to fail to successfully distinguish between true and false claims about current events in survey questions; and to report greater willingness to like or share false content on social media, especially when it is politically congenial. In all, these results paint a worrying picture: The individuals who are least equipped to identify false news content are also the least aware of their own limitations and, therefore, more susceptible to believing it and spreading it further.


Although Americans believe the confusion caused by false news is extensive, relatively few indicate having seen or shared it—a discrepancy suggesting that members of the public may not only have a hard time identifying false news but fail to recognize their own deficiencies at doing so. If people incorrectly see themselves as highly skilled at identifying false news, they may unwittingly participate in its circulation. In this large-scale study, we show that not only is overconfidence extensive, but it is also linked to both self-reported and behavioral measures of false news website visits, engagement, and belief. Our results suggest that overconfidence may be a crucial factor for explaining how false and low-quality information spreads via social media.