This shows a person looking through a newspaper.
The researchers asked the respondents to rate their feelings of being misinformed online, their active news avoidance, their news fatigue and their online news media use. Credit: Neuroscience News

Confusion Over Fact and Fiction Drives News Avoidance

Summary: Difficulty in distinguishing fact from fiction is leading more Americans to actively avoid news. This phenomenon, termed “news fatigue,” is exacerbated by the chaotic digital media landscape and declining trust in news sources.

The study, which surveyed nearly 1,200 adults, found that strong Democrats tend to turn to nonpartisan media when misinformed, whereas strong Republicans reduce their news consumption overall. The findings highlight a broader trend of disengagement from political discussion and news consumption due to misinformation and media distrust.

Key Fact:

  1. Political Alignment Affects News Consumption: Democrats are more likely to switch to nonpartisan media when feeling misinformed, while Republicans tend to reduce their engagement with all news media.
  2. Factors Increasing News Avoidance: Being white, conservative, and frequenting conservative media are associated with higher feelings of being misinformed.
  3. Declining Trust in Media: The study suggests that a general decline in trust towards media institutions is exacerbating news avoidance, making it harder for individuals to rely on traditional news sources.

Source: University of Michigan

As people have more difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction in the United States, they are more likely to feel news fatigue and avoid news altogether, according to a University of Michigan study.

More than an unintentional avoidance because of lack of media exposure, the researchers say people actively avoid news. 

The researchers also find that people who identify as strong Democrats begin relying more on nonpartisan news media when feeling misinformed, while people who identify as strong Republicans report using less news media overall, including less conservative news media. Their results are published in Journalism Studies.

“The more confusing or difficult to navigate that you find the news environment, the more you actively avoid news—but it’s not just news,” said lead author Ariel Hasell, U-M assistant professor of communication and media and faculty affiliate of the Center for Political Studies at the Institute for Social Research.

“News avoidance also includes people avoiding discussing politics with others as well. So it’s not just not consuming news, you’re stepping out of the conversation completely.”

Hasell and Audrey Halversen, U-M doctoral student in communication and media, drew data from three waves of a national online survey of adults in the United States.

The first two waves were collected leading up to the 2020 presidential election, and the final wave was collected shortly after. Nearly 1,200 adults completed the surveys, and the sample closely resembled the U.S. adult population.

The researchers asked the respondents to rate their feelings of being misinformed online, their active news avoidance, their news fatigue and their online news media use.

They also asked the respondents detailed questions about what kinds of news and news websites they read, and found that news avoidance and fatigue increased leading up to the 2020 presidential election.

Additionally, the researchers showed that being white, conservative and using more conservative media were all significantly associated with feeling more misinformed online, while political interest, political knowledge and nonpartisan news use were significantly associated with feeling less misinformed online.

“For a lot of people, public discussion about misinformation, the crowdedness of digital media environments and social media, and the amount of information that comes out from so many different sources, drives them away from news,” Hasell said.

“There’s this paradox that the more information that is available, the more people just opt out because it becomes too hard for them to make sense of it.”

Hasell says she thinks the United States’ low trust environment is contributing to the effect.

“That is, when we don’t trust institutions, we don’t have those mental shortcuts to determine whether nonpartisan news outlets are sharing information viewers can trust,” she said.

“Ten years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, we had a higher trust environment. Even among Democrats, the trust in mainstream news is declining. If you looked at another Western democracy that had more institutional trust in the news media, I’m not sure you would get this same effect.”

About this psychology research news

Author: Morgan Sherburne
Source: University of Michigan
Contact: Morgan Sherburne – University of Michigan
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Closed access.
Feeling Misinformed? The Role of Perceived Difficulty in Evaluating Information Online in News Avoidance and News Fatigue” by Ariel Hasell et al. Journalism Studies


Feeling Misinformed? The Role of Perceived Difficulty in Evaluating Information Online in News Avoidance and News Fatigue

As misinformation has become a prominent topic in U.S. politics, Americans have become increasingly concerned about the problem that misinformation poses. Correspondingly, people have become weary of news media, with some actively avoiding news media and political information.

While many situational and contextual factors contribute to news avoidance, this study considers how the feeling of being misinformed online might to contribute to related news attitudes and behaviors, like active news avoidance and news fatigue.

Using panel data from a three-wave survey of U.S. adults collected during the 2020 U.S. presidential election, we find that feeling misinformed online is a widely felt phenomenon in the U.S. that is associated with increased active news avoidance and news fatigue overtime.

We also find that strong partisans in the U.S. asymmetrically shift their news media use when they feel misinformed online; with strong Democrats relying more on non-partisan news media and strong Republicans using less news media overall, including less conservative news media.

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  1. The fact that this study is still being categorized by party affiliation is in and of itself enough to prove media bias.

    An educated and informed voter is more interested in what is documented and proven through multiple sources.

    The average Democrat is an idiot. The average Republican is a moron. You are regurgitating what average people are doing… Not something to aspire to or base any structured position upon.

    No one worth their salt believes contradictory information from any one source alone. 20 years ago the same stories were all being covered by multiple sources saying mostly the same thing. You could watch local network News and trust that it was fairly accurate. Now you’re lucky to see someone confirm their own stories in a sound bite.

    People today preach about pride and humility… We don’t talk about integrity anymore, though. Probably because there are so few examples of it to look to.

    The best deals I’ve made were sealed with a promise and a handshake… I still make those deals today… Even when the other side isn’t honored.

  2. How is it possible, in a crowded and noisy market place like the “news” space where 100s of channels in different formats vie for attention , to remain distinct from others? Every form of news, weather the twitter form, 2 minute read form, digital format of text news, video etc., they all get noisy at one point or the other…

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