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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Evaluating Information and Misinformation during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Evidence for Epistemic Vigilance


There are many ways to go wrong when evaluating new information, e.g. by putting unwarranted trust in non-experts, or failing to scrutinize information about threats. We examined how effective people were at evaluating information about the COVID-19 pandemic. Early in the course of the pandemic, we recruited 1791 participants from six countries with varying levels of pandemic severity, and asked them to evaluate true and false pandemic-related statements (assertions and prescriptions) sampled from the media. We experimentally manipulated the source of each statement (a doctor, a political/religious leader, social media, etc.). Overall, people proved to be epistemically vigilant: they distinguished between true and false statements, especially prescriptions, and they trusted doctors more than other sources. These effects were moderated by feeling threatened by the pandemic, and by strong identification with some sources (political/religious leaders). These findings provide optimism in the fight against misinformation, while highlighting challenges posed by politics and ideology.

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