Psychological Underpinnings of Post-Truth in Political Beliefs
by Rose McDermott, Brown University
Although both the idea and the reality of so-called fake news or disinformation campaigns long precede the Trump administration, discussions about the frequency, intensity, and prevalence of its influence have increased significantly since Donald Trump was elected. Technological innovations allow increasingly easy and inexpensive ways to create media that looks official, and the ability to separate real from artificial has become increasingly complicated and difficult. Some of the responsibility for public manipulation certainly rests with those who present false or artificial information as real. However, the relative success of this kind of manipulation depends, at least in part, on universal psychological processes that often make humans susceptible to believing things that are not true. For example, when people make decisions, they often weigh emotional feelings more heavily than abstract facts. This paper examines the psychological foundations that make individuals susceptible to a post-truth media environment and allows fake news and disinformation campaigns to emerge, escalate, and persist.