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Confirmation Bias, Analytical Thinking, and Emotional Intensity in Evaluating News Headlines Online

Martins Priedols, Girts Dimdins
University of Latvia

Abstract. This study examines the role of prior beliefs, analytic thinking, and emotional intensity of content in believing that information is truthful or not. Participants (N = 169 Facebook users) were presented with a series of news headlines previously categorised into three specific subgroups – for or against vaccination, true or false, and high or low in emotional intensity. Each participant first answered questions about their attitude and behaviour towards vaccination against COVID-19 based on the theory of planned behaviour (TPB) and filled out a cognitive reflection test (CRT), a measure of analytic thinking, followed by an evaluation of each headline on whether it is truthful or not. The results showed strong evidence of overall confirmation bias in the group that supports vaccination; however, when considering whether the headline is real or false, the most significant differences between the groups were found in the case of trust in fake headlines against vaccination – those against vaccination to a larger extend believed in false headlines confirming their prior beliefs. In contrast, such differences between the groups in case of false headlines supporting vaccination were weak. Further analysis showed that analytic thinking described by the CRT score had a weak yet statistically significant tendency to promote one’s ability to distinguish real from false information. The intensity of headlines had the most significant differences when evaluating real news headlines supporting vaccination with low emotional intensity and false news headlines against vaccination with low emotional intensity. Overall, these findings provide additional insight into the complex nature of information evaluation online and the critical role of one’s prior beliefs and emotional components of the content.

Keywords: analytic thinking, confirmation bias, emotional intensity, misinformation, dis­information

Author Note
This research is funded by “Strengthening of the capacity of doctoral studies at the University of Latvia within the framework of the new doctoral model”, identification No.

In: Human, Technologies and Quality of Education, 2022. Proceedings of Scientific Papers = Cilvēks, tehnoloģijas un izglītības kvalitāte, 2022. Rakstu krājums
Riga, University of Latvia, 2022. 1135 p. Ed. L. Daniela
ISBN 978-9934-18-911-1