Fake news is fascinating to the brain – here’s why

Fake news spread like wildfire and while just a few years ago, this word wasn’t part of your everyday conversations, it has now become part of the mainstream vocabulary. Social media has the biggest role to play in the spread of fake news and one of the reasons why fake news is shared so much has to do with our brain!

Researchers will be discussing role of neuroscience in helping us better understand fake news at the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) 2022 Forum. At the event, researchers will also be discussing and further try to understand the context in which fake-news develops, the basis for behaviours associated with fake-news and the brain areas and neurotransmitters associated with those behaviours.

For example, some studies have shown that unexpected information may be processed in a different way than information that we have already become familiar with. Novelty itself has been linked to motivation since dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with anticipation and reward, increases when we encounter novelty and salience. The tendency of fake news to involve attention-grabbing or shocking propositions is part of its appeal and what allows it to spread so quickly.

To further unpack the various factors that go into the creation and spread of fake news, some findings from recently published papers and work currently being reviewed will be discussed.

Along with others, research looking at the following events will be explored:

  • Ireland’s abortion referendum
  • Brexit
  • The Covid-19 pandemic

By looking at these highly polarised political issues, researchers were able to identify some interesting insights:

  • People are most susceptible to forming false memories for fake news that aligns with their beliefs, particularly if they have low cognitive ability
  • Individuals with better knowledge about a given subject matter showed better discrimination between true and false stories
  • Warnings about possible misinformation did not have any significant effect

While much of fake news has focused on political topics, it is also frequently seen on subjects such as vaccines, GMOs, climate change, renewable energies and so-called alternative therapies for severe health issues. Due to the detrimental effects that fake news can have on our individual beliefs and attitudes as well as societies at large, it is critical that we learn more about the fundamental ways that it affects us.

The FENS Forum features a high-quality scientific programme covering all aspects of neuroscience, from basic to translational research. Over the course of five days, attendees will have unprecedented access to a range of symposia, technical workshops, plenary and special lectures like these as well as poster sessions and more!

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