The cognitive science of fake news

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


In this chapter, we provide a necessarily brief and partial survey of recent work in the cognitive sciences directly on or closely related to the psychology of fake news, in particular fake news in the political domain. We focus on whether and why people believe fake news. While we argue that it is likely that a large proportion of people who purport to believe fake news really do, we provide evidence that this proportion might be significantly smaller than is usually thought (and smaller than is suggested by surveys). Assertion of belief is inflated, we suggest, by insincere report, whether to express support for one side of political debate or simply for fun. It is also inflated by the use of motivated inference of one sort or another, which leads respondents to report believing things about which they had no opinion prior to being probed. We then turn to rival accounts that aim to explain why people believe in fake news when they do. While partisan explanations, turning on motivated reasoning, are probably best known, we show they face serious challenges from accounts that explain belief by reference to analytic thinking.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge handbook of political epistemology
EditorsMichael Hannon, Jeroen de Ridder
Place of PublicationLondon ; New York
PublisherRoutledge, Taylor and Francis Group
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9781000371925
ISBN (Print)9780367345907, 9780367754686
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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