'Beans Have Iqmerctin, Good For Brain': 41% Teens Can't Tell This Online Message Is True Or False, Study Says

'Beans Have Iqmerctin, Good For Brain': 41% Teens Can't Tell This Online Message Is True Or False, Study Says

Teenagers find it very difficult to differentiate between fake and true health messages, a new study has found. Of 300 secondary school students who participated in the study, only 48 per cent trusted accurate health messages more than fake ones. Accurate health messages are the ones without editorial elements. 

The study also found that 41 per cent of the participants considered fake and neutral messages equally trustworthy, while 11 per cent considered true neutral health messages less trustworthy than fake health messages. 

The study, led by researchers at Comenius University, was recently published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. 

Researchers Created A Pool Of 36 Messages

The researchers used six short messages about the beneficial health effects of various fruits and vegetables. One of the true neutral health messages was: “Natural source of pectin (Title). Carrot has a positive effect on cholesterol. It is because carrots contain pectin, which helps with decreasing cholesterol levels. Pectin enables exclusion of toxic substances from the body.” The researchers created five new versions of each message. In this way, a total of 36 messages were obtained. This is because each of the six messages had six different versions. 

How Was The Participants’ Ability To Differentiate True And Fake Health Messages Assessed?

In order to assess whether participants could differentiate between true and fake health messages, the researchers created fake messages in the same format as true neutral health messages. One of the messages was: “Natural source of iqmerctin (Title). Beans have a positive effect on intelligence. They contain a substance called iqmerctin, which helps to increase intelligence. Iqmerctin is one of the active ingredients supporting brain development.” 

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“Iqmercitin” is a made-up word, and an amalgamation of IQ, the abbreviation for intelligence quotient, and ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug that was initially considered to be effective in treating Covid-19 but was later found to have no such effects.

The researchers analysed the extent to which the participants trusted a message on the basis of a Likert scale. The participants were asked to answer the question, “To what extent do you believe this message?” Then, they were asked to rate the message with any whole number ranging from one to five. If a participant considered a message “not at all trustworthy”, they rated it “1”. If a participant considered a message totally trustworthy, they rated it “5”. Higher numbers indicated higher trust in the message. 

How Was The Participants’ Sensitivity To Fake Messages Assessed?

The researchers also calculated the ability to recognise true and fake messages. They calculated the sensitivity of the participants to take messages as a deduction of trustworthiness in fake messages from the trustworthiness of true neutral messages. For instance, if a participant rated a true neutral message “5” and a fake message “1”, the deduction of the trustworthiness in fake messages from the trustworthiness in true neutral messages would be five minus one, which is equal to “4”. In other words, the sensitivity to fake messages would be “4”. 

The researchers considered a theoretical range from -5 to +5, and stated in the study that positive numbers indicated higher trust in true neutral messages than fake messages. Meanwhile, negative numbers indicated higher trust in fake messages than true neutral messages. In this way, the researchers were able to assess the level of trust participants placed in each message. 

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What The Study Found

Since 41 per cent of the teens were found to consider fake and true neutral messages equally trustworthy, it means that their sensitivity to fake messages was zero. In other words, 41 per cent of the participants could not tell whether the fact that beans contain iqmerctin is true or false. 

Also, 11 per cent of the participants considered true neutral health messages less trustworthy than fake health messages. 

In today’s world, fake health news is widespread, because of which it has become important for everyone to discern between truth and lies.

The study emphasises the importance of training teenagers to develop the ability to differentiate between fake news and true news, and increase their sensitivity to fake messages.