Why some people turn to conspiracy theories to explain the coronavirus

By Claudia Farhart, Emma Lawson

May 13, 2020

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, social media has become increasingly flooded with conspiracy theories seeking to explain how it originated and why.

The theories have ranged from stories suggesting COVID-19 was accidentally released from a lab in Wuhan, China to insisting 5G technology is the true cause of the infection.

On the weekend, the discussion moved from the internet to the streets of Melbourne, where about 100 people gathered outside parliament to protest against 5G, vaccinations, Victoria's lockdown restrictions and what they called the "coronavirus conspiracy”.

So why are these theories spreading so quickly - and why are people so willing to believe them? 

Why smart people believe coronavirus myths

By David Robson

April 06, 2020

From students to politicians, many smart people have fallen for dangerous lies spread about the new coronavirus. Why? And how can you protect yourself from misinformation?

It is a sad truth that any health crisis will spawn its own pandemic of misinformation.

Festiva Fake News: Reckon you've Seen Santa? This is why.

By Mary Ward

December 20, 2019

When Sarah Batternally was five, she remembers seeing Santa Claus.

"I was sleeping on the bottom bunk, with my brother above me," she recalls. "A man in a red suit appeared at the bedroom door and said, 'I've come to visit your family and when I leave you should wake up your brother and see what's in the lounge room.'"

Why Good Politics And Good Climate Science Don’t Mix

By Maggie Koerth-Baker

March 03, 2019

Imagine two people walking through a field. One of them tiptoes gingerly, zigging and zagging from one side to another. The other strides confidently straight ahead. Who looks more like they know what they’re doing? Now what if I told you the field is full of land mines? Confidence doesn’t equal competence. But our brains tend to assume it does. And that can create big problems when scientific evidence collides with political rhetoric.

Something As Simple As A Photo Can Trick You Into Believing Fake News

By Elfy Scott

November 21, 2018

A mounting body of scientific evidence is showing that people's assessments of whether or not something is true is really easily manipulated by cues as simple as photographs, or good-quality audio.  A study published in March found that people were less likely to believe an academic researcher on the radio if the audio quality of the recording was poor or glitchy.

How Fake News Can Exploit Pictures to Make People Believe Lies

By Jordan Hayne

November 21, 2018

True or false? Giraffes are the only mammals that can't jump.  According to a growing body of evidence, there are factors pushing you to rate that claim as true — and they have nothing to do zoology, biology, or general knowledge. It comes down to the fact the claim is presented alongside a generic photograph.

Would This Picture Make You Believe Fake News About Turtles?

By Sherryn Groch

November 21, 2018

First it was flesh-eating bananas wreaking havoc in the US. Then, a mummified fairy corpse was advertised for sale on eBay - along with the photos to "prove it". In the fake news era, seeing really is believing. Researchers at the Australian National University say people are more likely to believe a claim, no matter how outrageous, if it is paired with a photograph. 

People Believe Fake News If It Comes With A Photo

By Antoinette Lattouf

November 21, 2018

People are more likely to believe something that isn't true if the claim is placed next to a loosely relevant photograph, new research shows. Dr Eryn Newman, from ANU's Research School of Psychology, has been exploring how people determine truth in a fake-news era. Newman found that people make the decision to trust information if it has pictures to illustrate the ideas -- but it doesn't even have to show your proof.

Putting Science and Policy on the Same Wavelength

By Editor

August 16, 2018

It’s National Science Week in Australia, and on this week’s Policy Forum Pod, we hear from four scientists working across physics, psychology, engineering, and climatology: Susan Scott, Eryn Newman, Elanor Huntington and Mark Howden discuss how to break down the barriers standing between science and good public policy. 

Megan Fox’s New TV Show Draws Archaeologists’s Ire

By Jamie Seidel

May 11, 2018

Megan Fox is a stunning supermodel and credible actress. Add her to a wealth of ancient fables, conspiracy theories and pseudoscientific technobabble. Then add funding from the Travel Channel. Sounds like a perfect fit?  For ratings-hungry TV producers — yes.  For those who know what they’re talking about — no.

Dr. Eryn Newman Proves That Hearing is Believing

By Danielle Nohra

May 01, 2018

Whether it’s a story told by the news, a friend or research presented by a scientist, Dr. Eryn Newman says people are constantly making a decision about what’s real and what’s not.

Bad Audio Can Hurt a Scientist's Credibility

By Christopher Intagliata

April 27, 2018

In the era of fake news it's worth remembering: the medium is the message. For example: psychological studies have shown that text that's hard to read is more likely to be deemed untrue. Now a study suggests that when radio shows interview guests over bad phone lines, listeners might discount the credibility of a speaker…and her work. 

How Sound Quality Affects Our Perception of Facts

By Jordan Hayne

April 11, 2018

You might think you're pretty good at discerning fact from fiction, but new research sheds light on how fickle people can be when forming judgements.  In fact, a new study suggests when we're listening to information, the quality of the sound can be just as important as the message.

A Superpower for our Time: How to Handle the Truth

By Lynn Vavreck

June 19, 2017

“What one does when faced with the truth is more difficult than you would think.” — Wonder Woman, in the movie released last month.

This goes for all of us, not just superheroes. The nuances of how people react when faced with the truth have come into focus in today’s increasingly polarized political climate.

Democracy Requires Trust. But Trump is Making Us All Into Conspiracy Theorists

By Paul Musgrave

March 06, 2017

This past weekend, President Trump accused former president Barack Obama — without any evidence — of ordering Trump’s phones to be wiretapped during last year’s presidential campaign. It was only the most recent in a bewildering number of conspiracy theories the president and his circle have embraced over the past year.

Why Are People so Incredibly Gullible?

By David Robson

March 23, 2016

If you ever need proof of human gullibility, cast your mind back to the attack of the flesh-eating bananas.  In January 2000, a series of chain emails began reporting that imported bananas were infecting people with “necrotizing fasciitis” – a rare disease in which the skin erupts into livid purple boils before disintegrating and peeling away from muscle and bone.

The Media Fuels Vaccination Myths by Trying to Correct Them

By Norbert Schwartz & Eryn Newman

March 18, 2015

In recent years, misinformation about vaccines has discouraged parents from having their children vaccinated, which puts their own children – as well as their neighbors’ children – at risk. In response, many doctors, scientists and journalists have worked together in an attempt to correct false beliefs about vaccination.

Truth vs. Truthiness: A UCI Researcher Studies the Difference

By Theresa Walker

November 04, 2014

Today, Election Day, feels like an appropriate time to ponder truthiness. Stephen Colbert, the satirist from Comedy Central, has built a career on it. So has Eryn Newman, a postdoctoral scholar at UC Irvine’s Department of Criminology, Law & Society who specializes in human memory and decision-making.

The Science of Truthiness

By Katy Waldman

September 02, 2014

​A bumper sticker was popular in the city where I went to college. It was yellow, with large black print that read: “Mopeds are dangerous.” Beneath the text was the blocky silhouette of a moped and nothing else. 

Psychology Explains Why People Are So Easily Duped

By Eryn Newman

June 29, 2014

True or false: “The Eiffel Tower is in France.” Most of us can quickly and accurately answer this question by relying on our general knowledge. But what if you were asked to consider the claim: “The beehive is a building in New Zealand.” Unless you have visited New Zealand or watched a documentary on the country, this is probably a difficult question.

All Things Considered: To Command Respect, Try Using Your Middle Initial

By Editor

May 06, 2014

Robert Siegel talks to a pair of researchers who have studied names and how they are perceived by others. Are our evaluations of people's credibility swayed by how easily we can pronounce their names? Researchers in New Zealand have tried to find out.

Why Choosing a Simple Name Could Give Your Child a Better Life

By Sarah Knapton

April 30, 2014

Parents contemplating giving their children complicated names should think again. The harder your name is to pronounce, the less likely people are to trust you, researchers have found.

What Your Name Says About How Believable You Are

By Matti Vuorre

April 28, 2014

Imagine that you are evaluating two equally suitable job candidates’ applications for a position in your successful yogurt company. Both make equally impressive claims about their potential future contributions, and you are left with a difficult decision: Should you rather hire Chen Meina, or Shobha Bhattacharya?

Is Your Name Hard to Pronounce? Then People Don't Trust You: Simple Names Make People Feel Familiar and Less 'Risky'

By Sarah Griffiths

February 28, 2014

Plenty of people are guilty of quickly judging people based on their appearance or accent. And now scientists have found that we trust strangers with easier-to pronounce names. Simpler and more easily recognizable names make people come across as more familiar and less risky to know, according to a new study.


Truthiness Explained

By Editor

September 13, 2012

Truthiness — it’s what satirist Stephen T. Colbert calls “the truth that you feel in your gut, regardless of what the facts support.” Now APS Member Eryn J. Newman, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, is taking a closer look at what really happens when we “think with our guts.”

Pictures Power 'Truthiness'

By Stacey Kirk

August 08, 2012

Looking at pretty pictures helped a great many of us learn to read, but New Zealand research is showing the power of an illustrated prompt may extend into adulthood. A study has now found that people are far more likely to accept something is true or legitimate if there is an accompanying picture beside it.

Who's Honoring Me Now? - Psychonomic Bulletin and Review

The Colbert Report

August 08, 2012

Scientists from Canada and New Zealand research "truthiness," a little world-changing concept Stephen tossed off on his first show in 2005.

Cognitive Researchers Find Truth in Colbert’s ‘Truthiness’

By Eric W. Dolan

August 07, 2012

Scientists in New Zealand and Canada have found Stephen Colbert’s concept of “truthiness” isn’t just a late-night ruse to get laughs; the concept can also help explain how the human brain evaluates claims.

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