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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The impact of readability on trust in information


The increased prevalence of “fake news" in recent years makes it important for us to better understand how we decide which information to trust and accept as true. Existing research has identified the important roles of factors such as trust in the source of the information and reading ability. We report on the results of a study on how the style of writing, and specifically the difficulty level of the text providing the information, affects our trust in the information provided. Participants trusted the information more in texts that were more difficult to read, regardless of whether the information presented was correct or incorrect. Regardless of readability, participants trusted paragraphs providing truthful information more than those providing false information. This result has important implications for information on social media platforms, where the source may or may not be readily available and is often not an expert on the topic.

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