Psychological Interventions Against Susceptibility to Fake News about COVID-19


  • Beata Sobotova Comenius University in Bratislava


The pandemic is shaping the world in many ways, one of which is the spread of fake news. The notion of fake news refers to viral posts based on false information. The ability to distinguish between fake and real news is called fake news discernment [1]. To promote this ability there were studies that used psychological interventions such as priming critical thinking [2], which exposes participants to simple questions, that should enhance their ability to think rationally when rating the accuracy of news headlines, or inoculation [3], in which the recipients are offered counterarguments, true information to prevent persuasion by false ones. In our research, we aimed to verify the efficiency of the combination of the two above-mentioned interventions. After collecting demographic data, we measured fake news discernment by asking participants to evaluate the accuracy of fake and real news headlines. The first experimental group (N=120) was exposed only to three simple questions inspired by [2]. The second experimental group (N=102) was exposed to a combined intervention. First, in the detailed inoculation, they were shown interactive videos explaining myths considering the COVID – 19 vaccines common among the Slovaks with interaction done by interrupting the video with multiple-choice questions related to the information from the video. Next, participants were also exposed to priming critical thinking and were asked to evaluate the accuracy of the headlines. In the control group (N=130), the participants were asked

to evaluate the accuracy of the headlines. We hypothesized that (1) both interventions will decrease the belief of the participants in fake news, (2) using both interventions will have a greater effect on fake news discernment (3) the fake news discernment will be correlating with participants’ conservative/liberal political leaning, negative attitude toward vaccination in general, and conspiracy beliefs. It was revealed that our three groups did not differ significantly in their ability to detect fake versus real news, Nevertheless, the patterns of correlations yielded some interesting results. First weak correlation suggesting that the more liberal our participants were, the better were they able to discern fake news from real ones. Further, found a large negative correlation meaning that the more dismissive the attitude toward vaccination is, the worse is participants’ fake news discernment. Also, the correlation between fake news discernment and the conspiracy belief was found to be a largely negative one, meaning that the more participants believe in conspiracy theories, the less are they able to discern between fake and real news. Other correlations, such as the reliance on fake news, and the willingness to share them were interconnected.


[1] G. Pennycook and D. G. Rand, “The Psychology of Fake News,” Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 25, no. 5, pp. 388–402, 2021.
[2] L. Lutzke, C. Drummond, P. Slovic, and J. Árvai, “Priming critical thinking: Simple interventions limit the influence of fake news about climate change on Facebook,” Global Environmental Change, vol. 58, 2019.

[3] S. van der Linden, A. Leiserowitz, S. Rosenthal, and E. Maibach, “Inoculating the Public against Misinformation about Climate Change,” Global Challenges, vol. 1, no. 2, p. 1600008, 2017.