People with weak arithmetic-solving ability are more susceptible to believing in misinformation regarding coronavirus, a survey conducted across five countries has revealed. Speaking on the interesting findings from the study, Cambridge University said the results suggest that wrong information or ‘fake news’ surrounding the virus and the pandemic can thus be curtailed if the analytical abilities of people are improved, a report with the Guardian said.
The survey was conducted in Ireland, Spain, Mexico, the US and the UK. The respondents were made to sit through three sets of tests to understand the kind of information they retain, which resulted in the researchers to come to the conclusion that the most common factor which made made people susceptible to believing misinformation regarding Covid-19 was lesser numerical literacy, which essentially is the ability to rein in and apply quantitative information broadly.
Those who participated in the survey were given nine statements to assess, some of which were true and some falselik, e the one about 5G mobile phone users were more at risk of contracting Covid-19 to some true statements as well, such as people with diabetes are at higher risk of complications from coronavirus, among others.
They were also enquired about what they thought of risk arising out of Covid-19 and the chances of them getting vaccinated whenever the same becomes available.
The researchers found that higher susceptibility to fake news was related to lower self-reported compliance with public health rules for Covid-19 along with people’s willingness to get vaccinated.
Study author Dr Sander van der Linden said some think the susceptibility to misinformation is elated to their reasoning abilities, while some also thought it is linked to their political views too. He also shared the results of the study on Twitter.
New study @royalsociety: Susceptibility to misinformation about #COVID19 around the world led by the brilliant @roozenbot. Clear link between misinfo & vaccine hesitancy. Trust in science & better numerical reasoning protect against fake news. Thread 1/5https://t.co/OBSQWvFBdB pic.twitter.com/L7SgN7m9k7— Sander van der Linden 😷 (@Sander_vdLinden) October 14, 2020
A huge example to contribute towards this was observed when Donald Trump promoted the use of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug that has been around for decades but was touted as a cure when the US President begun mentioning its name at his briefings, who urged Americans to “try it."
“My take is that both are relevant. And I was surprised to see numeracy playing such a strong role here … it was one of the single most important predictors. I like that finding in a sense because it gives me hope that there’s a solution out there, ” van der Linden said was quoted as saying.
Researchers also noticed another distinct factor that they felt linked to the belief in Covid-19 fake news- age. Those who were older seemed to be less susceptible to believeing in fake news, except in Mexico. This however, seemed to be opposite to what was observed previously during a survey.
The research was published in the journal Royal Society Open Science and it also found that people who were more receptive to misinformation viewed themselves as minorities and appeared resistant to voices in authority such as scientists and politicians.
Political conservatism was also found to be related to a slightly higher susceptibility to misinformation, but it was more effective in the other countries as compared to UK and US.
Dr Emma O’Dwyer, a senior lecturer at Kingston University however felt that the five countries choosen for the study don’t provide an account at the country level for why these relationships are different.
However, the paper does not provide much information as to why the wrong information spreads in the first place. Experts have often worried during the course of the pandemic that the flurry of wrong information has the potential to undermine efforts by health workers to reduce the spread of the virus. Also several times, misinformation is often transmitted through leaders who are at an influential position and especially social media.