Guest post: Believing ‘fake news’ induces stress and could be bad for your heart

In this guest post blog, Geoff Walton, CILIP ILG committee member, writes about his latest research outcomes.


Mis-information especially in the form of fake-news or alternative facts is becoming ever more pervasive and problematic, to such an extent that the UK Parliament has its own Select Committee to investigate it and continues to receive evidence. To date, it is unclear how mis-information effects the well-being of individuals and to what extent it might have a protective effect. One possible answer may be in the form of information discernment, a sub-set of information literacy which is a person’s ability to make well-calibrated judgements about information. Indeed, research indicates that individuals with high levels of information discernment tend to make very complex and balanced judgements about information whereas those who are low information discerners use a limited set of, or no, criteria when judging information.

Despite almost unremitting access to information, the combined psychological and physical impact of exposure to mis-information such as ‘fake news’ upon healthy individuals remains poorly studied. Psychological responses have been measured to determine whether exposure to mass-media related terrorist events influence the reporting of stress symptoms, yet the combined physiological and psychological evidence remains scarce. Thus far, only two studies have investigated the effects of viewing the news and the physiological consequences to stress. To this end, our study is the first to use a multi-disciplinary approach across information science, psychology and user experience design to measure how users behave and react physically when making judgements about online information.

Analysis of the data presents initial findings for the importance of information discernment capability. First, high information discerners are different to low information discerners in the characteristics that they report. They are more curious, sceptical and realise the importance of questioning who authored a piece of information. Second, within our current data set, for individuals who were provided with mis-information, levels of information discernment heralded diverse results. To illustrate, those within the high information discernment group produced more favourable appraisal, heart, and emotional responses towards a stressful event, than those within the low information discernment group. Additionally, higher reporting of information discernment significantly associated with higher reporting of positive emotions. These observations, of healthier physical and psychological responses, support the contention that information discernment is a critical ability for individuals to possess, specifically when dealing with mis-information. Third, high information discernment corresponds with high concentration and low information discernment corresponds with low concentration. Moreover, there appeared to be a level of disengagement with the content, particularly for participants with low information discernment. Conversely, high information discerners tended to interrogate the whole document, text, graphs and images in a structured way.

In summary, high information discerners tend to be more curious about information and who wrote it, they will interrogate a piece of information methodically and attend to all aspects presented to them and finally, they will respond to mis-information in an adaptive (challenged) way and with a positive emotional reaction.

1 thought on “Guest post: Believing ‘fake news’ induces stress and could be bad for your heart”

  1. Andy Hough

    Really good post which makes some very valid points
    In age of instant news updates and the potential for anyone to publish anything, a need for information consumers to be more conscious of news cont ent and it’s source is timely

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *