The Power of Perceptions

"The academy rewards burrowing down rather than cultivating across fields of inquiry. Everyone knows this is a liability, and yet few have tried to remedy this narrowness. To counter this tendency, one might take MIT’s great strength — problem-solving — and purposefully tackle problems (as MIT has done with energy) that must involve many different disciplines."
—Adam Berinsky

Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office
April 3, 2017

For all the fact-checking and objective reporting produced by major media outlets, U.S. voters are more likely to believe information when it comes from a candidate those voters support — and vice versa, according to a new study co-authored by MIT scholars.

The study, conducted during the U.S. presidential primaries for the 2016 election, uses a series of statements by President Donald J. Trump — then one of many candidates in the Republican field — to see how partisanship and prior beliefs interact with evaluations of objective fact.

The researchers presented study participants with both true and false statements Trump made, surveying voters from both parties about their responses. They found participants’ opinions of Trump influenced how plausible people assumed the information to be. For instance, when Trump falsely suggested vaccines cause autism, a claim rejected by scientists, Republicans who supported Trump were more likely to believe the claim when it was attributed to Trump than they were when the claim was presented without attribution.

On the other hand, when Trump correctly stated the financial cost of the Iraq War, Democrats (and Republicans who did not support Trump) were less likely to believe his claim than they were when the same claim was presented in unattributed form.

“It wasn’t just the case that misinformation attributed to Trump was less likely to be rejected by Republicans,” says Adam Berinsky, a professor of political science at MIT and a co-author of the new paper. “The things Trump said that were true, if attributed to Trump, [made] Democrats less likely to believe [them]. … Trump really does polarize people’s views of reality.”

Full story at MIT News