Metacognitive Precesses and their Effect on Spotting and Sharing Fake News.


In the current climate of increasing public concern over fake news, the idea that metacognitive awareness can moderate or change news perception, and affect changes in decision-making, seems crucial in understanding how users of social media cope with disinformation, manipulation, and partial truths.

We aim to explore how conspicuous presence or absence of metacognitive processes may affect social media users’ willingness to accept or reject a piece of news as true or false. To which degree do people believe that they are acting autonomously? Are there signs of awareness of evolutionary, cognitive, and neurological phenomena, which reinforce belief confirmation and reject counter-attitudinal cognitions?

According to David Dunning (2012), 40 years of research substantiate that people consistently overestimate their capacity to judge their performance. Yet, there is significant confirmation that instances of metacognitive awareness enable individuals to discern a biasing influence and make corrections to adjust their perceptions, which may result in a more realistic assessment of the news they receive (Petty, Wegener, and White 1998)

Sentencing impulsively “This is fake news”, upon a cursory reading of a headline or an article, would be “primary thinking” in cognitive psychology parlance. Conversely, “My estimation that this is fake news might be motivated by the sender, or the author, or the ideological slant”, would constitute an example of a higher-order thought process that constitutes metacognitive awareness and which is characterized by a more deliberate, effortful, time-consuming cognitive activity (Rucker et-al.:2011; ; Briñol & DeMarree: 2012).

This process of “bias correction” also requires a certain measure of awareness of the optimism bias, another unconscious, automatic mechanism of the human mind. Humans have a strong propensity to shun or dismiss information if they fear that once acquired, this knowledge will not allow them to believe what they would like to keep believing (Sharot: 2011)

To this end, we conducted six, two-hour-long focus group meetings (n=48). The focus group discussions were recorded and transcribed. Participants were selected controlling for age, sex, educational level, media engagement, and public engagement. We analyzed the participants’ contributions for conspicuous displays or marked absence of three metacognitive processes: bias correction, optimism bias (avoidance of negative cognitions), and over-/under-confidence in judging their own performance. We asked participants to judge their competence to gauge the veracity of information, and to discern fake news relative to other users. We prompted participants to produce examples from their social media accounts of what they perceived as fake news, and we gave them examples of news stories, some true and some false, and asked them to determine their veracity.

We conclude that observing both evidence of metacognition, and absence of metacognition affords insight into people’s capacity to judge news as true or fake. Over-confidence, coupled with obliviousness to cognitive biases (strong optimism bias, no notion of bias correction) were strong predictors for people’s inclination to believe and share fake news. Conversely, under-confidence to judge coupled with awareness of cognitive biases made people more skeptical of fake news and less vulnerable to deception.