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Sunday, February 26, 2023

Time pressure reduces misinformation discrimination ability but does not alter response bias

Sultan, M., Tump, A.N., Geers, M. et al. 
Sci Rep 12, 22416 (2022).


Many parts of our social lives are speeding up, a process known as social acceleration. How social acceleration impacts people’s ability to judge the veracity of online news, and ultimately the spread of misinformation, is largely unknown. We examined the effects of accelerated online dynamics, operationalised as time pressure, on online misinformation evaluation. Participants judged the veracity of true and false news headlines with or without time pressure. We used signal detection theory to disentangle the effects of time pressure on discrimination ability and response bias, as well as on four key determinants of misinformation susceptibility: analytical thinking, ideological congruency, motivated reflection, and familiarity. Time pressure reduced participants’ ability to accurately distinguish true from false news (discrimination ability) but did not alter their tendency to classify an item as true or false (response bias). Key drivers of misinformation susceptibility, such as ideological congruency and familiarity, remained influential under time pressure. Our results highlight the dangers of social acceleration online: People are less able to accurately judge the veracity of news online, while prominent drivers of misinformation susceptibility remain present. Interventions aimed at increasing deliberation may thus be fruitful avenues to combat online misinformation.


In this study, we investigated the impact of time pressure on people’s ability to judge the veracity of online misinformation in terms of (a) discrimination ability, (b) response bias, and (c) four key determinants of misinformation susceptibility (i.e., analytical thinking, ideological congruency, motivated reflection, and familiarity). We found that time pressure reduced discrimination ability but did not alter the—already present—negative response bias (i.e., general tendency to evaluate news as false). Moreover, the associations observed for the four determinants of misinformation susceptibility were largely stable across treatments, with the exception that the positive effect of familiarity on response bias (i.e., response tendency to treat familiar news as true) was slightly reduced under time pressure. We discuss each of these findings in more detail next.

As predicted, we found that time pressure reduced discrimination ability: Participants under time pressure were less able to distinguish between true and false news. These results corroborate earlier work on the speed–accuracy trade-off, and indicate that fast-paced news consumption on social media is likely leading to people misjudging the veracity of not only false news, as seen in the study by Bago and colleagues, but also true news. Like in their paper, we stress that interventions aimed at mitigating misinformation should target this phenomenon and seek to improve veracity judgements by encouraging deliberation. It will also be important to follow up on these findings by examining whether time pressure has a similar effect in the context of news items that have been subject to interventions such as debunking.

Our results for the response bias showed that participants had a general tendency to evaluate news headlines as false (i.e., a negative response bias); this effect was similarly strong across the two treatments. From the perspective of the individual decision maker, this response bias could reflect a preference to avoid one type of error over another (i.e., avoiding accepting false news as true more than rejecting true news as false) and/or an overall expectation that false news are more prevalent than true news in our experiment. Note that the ratio of true versus false news we used (1:1) is different from the real world, which typically is thought to contain a much smaller fraction of false news. A more ecologically valid experiment with a more representative sample could yield a different response bias. It will, thus, be important for future studies to assess whether participants hold such a bias in the real world, are conscious of this response tendency, and whether it translates into (in)accurate beliefs about the news itself.