Angry People Are More Vulnerable To Misinformation, Study Finds
A new study linking anger to memory errors has suggested that angry people may be more likely to believe misinformation.
You’ve probably heard people warn against making ’emotional’ decisions, and it turns out there’s a scientific reason for that. Findings published in the journal Experimental Psychology have found that while angry people are more confident in their memories, they are also less likely to recall things accurately compared with people in a more balanced emotional state.
In the study, groups of ‘angry’ and ‘neutral’ participants were asked to watch an 8-minute clip from a film. Before watching the clip, researchers created a heightened state of emotion in the ‘angry’ participants by asking them to write about a time in their lives when they had been angry, while ‘neutral’ participants were asked to recall more ordinary experience of visiting to a museum.
After the clip, the group was asked to complete a quiz about what they had just watched. The quiz included questions designed to seed misinformation, such as asking ‘what do Daniel and Julia sit on during their conversation when Julia drops her purse?’ despite the fact that Julia never drops her purse in the clip.
Participants were then given an 80-item test to assess what they could remember about the film, and how much misinformation from the quiz they had absorbed. The results showed that, while both groups could accurately recall things that were in the clip, angry participants were more likely to also say that false details given to them in the quiz were actually part of the film.
Study co-author Michael Greenstein, associate professor at Framingham State University, explained:
Anger is an interesting emotion because it somewhat defies traditional classifications in that it’s a ‘negative’ emotion, but it impacts cognition in a lot of ways that are more similar to ‘positive’ emotions.
Anger doesn’t simply make someone’s memory worse… instead, it makes people more susceptible to the types of memory errors they were already making.
Greenstein believes that memory errors aren’t necessarily always a negative, adding that giving angry people true information could help fill in gaps to make their memory more accurate.
Scientists are still trying to understand the exact processes linking anger to memory, and further research could help identify ways to make people less susceptible to misinformation. It could turn out that the best way to stop fake news is just to get everyone to calm down, although given the current state of things, that’s probably easier said than done.
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