Older people are less likely to believe fake news than younger adults, and age-related susceptibility to fraudulent news is evident only among those categorized as “the oldest.”

Failure to distinguish fake news from real news can have serious consequences for a person’s physical, emotional and financial well-being – especially for older people, who generally have more financial assets and need to make higher health decisions.

The study conducted in the early phase of Covid-19 pandemicis the first to outline the role of analytical thinking, the effect and frequency of news consumption in detecting fake news in older people in a wide age range, as well as in direct comparison with young adults.

“We wanted to see if there was an age difference in determining whether the news was true or false,” said lead author Didem Pehlivanoglu, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at the University of Florida.

“We especially wanted to look at this because we know that as we age, most people show some decline in their cognitive abilities. But we also know that some information processing capabilities have been maintained or even improved. “


Research is scarce on the susceptibility of older people to fake news and what factors may help or impair a person’s ability to judge the accuracy of information. Raising concerns, some previous work suggests that the elderly share incorrect information on social media more often than young adults during the 2016 presidential election.

And the dramatic increase in misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened concerns, given that the virus was special.

“People have a perception that older people will perform worse than young people, but that’s not the case,” said Brian Cahill, a psychology professor and co-author of the study.

Although many people show cognitive decline with age, it is also true that with age comes a wider knowledge base, more life experience and often a more positive effect. As a group, older people also tend to consume more news than younger adults. These factors can filter and contextualize the processing of information in the elderly.

The researchers conducted the study between May and October 2020. Older people ranged in age from 61 to 87, and younger people were students.

In the study, participants read and evaluated 12 full-length news articles on COVID and non-COVID-related topics, with six true and six fake stories in each category. After reading the article, the researchers asked participants questions such as whether the article was real or fake and how confident they were in their decision.

Researchers then measure participants’ analytical thinking skills, the effect and frequency of news consumption.

They found that the ability to detect fake news was comparable between young and older people. The definition of a fake article was related to individual differences in analytical reasoning skills for both age groups. Also, both young and older people have a lower ability to detect fake COVID news than daily fake news, which may reflect a lack of knowledge of COVID information at the beginning of the pandemic.


It is important, however, that older people – ie. these individuals 70 years of age or older show a reduced ability to detect fake news, whether on COVID or another topic, and this reduced ability is related to levels of analytical reasoning, affect, and frequency of news consumption.

Adults in the 70+ age group, who have a greater positive impact and who often consume news, are more likely to engage in “shallow” information processing, including not looking at information so carefully or paying attention to detail.

Researchers say that only at a very late age, in a period of life when the decline in cognitive abilities can not be compensated more than the accumulation of life experience and world knowledge, people become particularly vulnerable to fraud through misinformation and fake news, researchers say. in the study.

“This is a particularly high-risk population with high stakes on making the wrong decisions, not only for themselves but for society as a whole,” said co-author Natalie Ebner, a psychology professor.

The findings have the potential to influence the design of decision-making interventions to improve news communication and reduce misinformation throughout life and aging, researchers say.


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