Misleading But Not Fake: Measuring the Difference Between Manipulativeness Discernment and Veracity Discernment Using Psychometrically Validated Tests

Maertens, Rakoen; Said, Nadia; Buder, Jürgen; Roozenbeek, Jon

Misinformation continues to pose a substantial societal problem, but the measurement of misinformation susceptibility has often been done using non-validated tests. Furthermore, research shows that misleading content (implied misinformation) is much more common than outright false content (explicit misinformation). However, there is very little research on the predictors of belief in implied misinformation, and it is unknown if susceptibility to direct and implied misinformation are psychologically similar. To address these questions, we ran three preregistered studies (N 1 = 487, N 2 = 547, N 3 = 490) in which we developed and validated the 24-item and 12-item Manipulative Online Content Recognition Inventory (MOCRI), a test that measures a person’s ability to distinguish between misleading and neutral content. This test substantially outperforms other known predictors of misinformation susceptibility in terms of its predictive value for people’s ability to correctly identify many kinds of misleading content. We also show that susceptibility to misleading and false content are psychologically different from one another, although they are related. Finally, we show that people who score high on the MOCRI are much better than low MOCRI performers at discerning manipulative from non-manipulative statements (i.e., they have better “discernment”), but that this ability does not necessarily translate to better discernment in the quality of their sharing decisions, or their willingness to reply to manipulative vs. non-manipulative messages. Instead, people who are more resilient to being manipulated are less
likely to share and respond to both manipulative and non-manipulative content.