A new working paper by researchers at Yale University finds that the kind of people more likely to believe stories that are literally “fake news” — who fall for the hoaxes, if you will — are those who believe in delusions (like telepathic communication), are dogmatic in their thinking, and are just flat-out religious fundamentalists.
It makes a lot of sense. After all, the paper notes, evidence “suggests that religious fundamentalists may engage in less analytic and actively open-minded thinking.” I believe that. They already believe in huge amount of nonsensical garbage — a talking snake, a young Earth, God watches over you, Jesus performed miracles, etc. — in large part because they live in bubbles where those stories feel convincing despite not measuring up to reality. When pastors tell you those lies with conviction, and a sacred book reiterates the lies, and your parents teach you that doubting the lies could lead you down the path to eternal punishment, it makes a lot of sense that news articles that appear legitimate would just be taken as gospel.
NiemanLab’s Laura Hazard Owen has more on the methodology and details.
But while those results may not surprise most readers here, the more important question is if there’s a good way to make those people better critical thinkers. Can you teach them how to spot bullshit when their entire life revolves around accepting bullshit?
The researchers say that’s possible if those groups focus on “the search for alternative explanations and the use of evidence to revise beliefs” and analytic thinking. Seems obvious… and also futile.
The problem with dogmatic, fundamentalist people is that they have predetermined conclusions before they ever consider the evidence.
Just look at Creationist Ken Ham. His organization literally believes the answers are in Genesis — that God created everything in six days, a few thousand years ago. All evidence must be shoved into that idea. And if it doesn’t, or can’t, the evidence is discarded, never the conclusion. Searching for alternative explanations or wrestling with the evidence are excellent habits for most people to build, but they’re also heresy for religious fundamentalists.
I think it’s much harder to change someone’s thought process the older they get, and the more comfortable they get with their lies. While these researchers like the idea of promoting “open-minded and analytic thinking,” perhaps the better solution is getting through to kids when they’re as young as possible, before they’ve been brainwashed by other delusional people.
A lot of skeptics have said religious fundamentalism is a form of mental child abuse. That looks to be the case here. By teaching kids to accept fiction as fact because it’s promoted by their religion and authority figures in their lives, those kids will struggle down the road when it comes to figuring out what is and isn’t a lie.
(Image via Shutterstock)