Why do our brains respond to misinformation?

A framework to elucidate cognitive response to fake news

Photo by Polina Zimmerman from Pexels

This blog helps explicate how our brains respond to misinformation and elaborates on why our response is so difficult to predict and control.

Figure 1: Individual Response to Messages from Promoters and Debunkers (based on research in persuasive communications including the Heuristic Systematic Model (HSM: Chaiken, 1980) and the closely related Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM: Petty & Cacioppo, 1986)

The precise mix of heuristic and systematic processing is influenced by multiple factors, sometimes working against each other, resulting in outcomes that may appear contradictory, but seem reasonable when considering the individuals internal schemas [4].

It is not sufficient to state that education level, political ideology, age or some single attribute fosters higher susceptibility to misinformation. The human brain is far too complicated to allow for easy explanations. While only a small fraction of ‘bad actors’ intentionally spread misinformation, the large majority respond and act on it because of their internal cognitive schema and how it aligns with their motivations and abilities.


I’m passionate about exploring the entanglement of social and digital, and its implications for our collective future.