Joshua Bright / The New York Times

February 7, 2019

Political Beliefs Shape People’s Trust in News, New Cornell Tech Study Shows

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In the age where “fake news” has become a catchphrase, the general public still trusts the headlines they read — but only if these headlines align with their political affiliations.

A recent study by researchers at Cornell Tech suggests that people “overwhelmingly report believing headlines that align with their political views, regardless of the source of the report.”

The researchers, headed by Prof. Mor Naaman, information science, conducted an online experiment with 400 participants to see if they trusted headlines such as “Trump lashes out at Vanity Fair, one day after it lambastes his restaurant.”

The study also collected their political leaning to evaluate whether the source of the story — such as Fox News or The New York Times — influenced the participants’ trust in the headlines. The results show that the general public does not believe every headline they read, but are more likely to claim that a headline is accurate if it aligns with their world views.

However, there was a nuance in this finding. When some participants were offered payment for getting the “correct” answer — whether the headline was actually true or false — their political beliefs play less of a role in their answers.

Naaman believes that these findings show that “the source of news might be less polarizing than previously thought.” However, people are likely to discredit accurate headlines if they do not support their views.

“We thought that recent reports about trust in news did not dig far enough into the determinants of trust, and that understanding this in more detail can help us design better news platforms and social media platforms where news is shared,” Naaman said in an email to The Sun.

The team of researchers are planning to use these findings to dig further into this topic. They are hoping to expand their study to use more headlines, more news sources and more participants.

“We definitely intend to dig in including extending the research to make our results more robust and examining these dynamics in more realistic settings,” Naaman said.