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What “Fake News” Really Looks Like, with Dan Ariely

Haley Paskalides  |  September 20, 2023

How to spot misinformation in the news, and the personality traits that could make you more susceptible to “fake news.” 

If you’re finding it harder these days to discern exactly what to believe when you watch or read the news, you’re not alone. According to a recent Gallup study, 38% of Americans have no trust at all in newspapers, TV, and radio. Notably, this is the first time in history that the percentage of Americans with no trust at all in the media is higher than the percentage of those who trust the media. In fact, because any creator can put literally anything on the internet, the Associated Press now has an entire section of their website dedicated to “Not Real News” where they fact-check the news of the week.  So, how can we make sure our sources are reputable, and the information we’re getting is reliable? Dan Ariely, the James B. Duke Professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University has the advice we need to combat misinformation — because he’s experienced the damage it can do firsthand. 

Early on in the pandemic, Dan Ariely was the target of a campaign that alleged he orchestrated the pandemic (along with Bill Gates) to get rid of as many people as possible. While he found this preposterous, he had a very hard time disproving it to the people who believed it. This  led him to write his new book MISBELIEF: What Makes Rational People Believe Irrational Things,” which delves into the growing phenomena of discarded truths, alternative facts, and full-blown conspiracy theories that have driven a wedge in public discourse and our personal relationships. 

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Dan Ariely says the reason misinformation has become so rampant in the news over the past few years is because “when the world doesn’t make sense to us, we have this tremendous motivation to find a story.” The pandemic caused a lot of stress across the board (whether it was money worries, your families health, or kids being home from school), and he says that stress translates to “a very deep need to explain the world.” 

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There are also certain personality traits that lead people down the road of misinformation, and people who gravitate towards fake news actually tend to have “less intellectual humility.” 

“Intellectual humility is the fact that we don’t feel that we need to have an answer right now, that it’s okay to live with uncertainty,” Ariely explains. He also acknowledges that we all have people in our lives who believe things that are simply untrue, and rather than getting upset with them we should, “go with them on that journey and try to help them understand that their beliefs might not be based on such solid ground as they think it is.”

In Mailbag, a listener asks if their money would do better in a traditional IRA or a high-yield savings account, and a mom asks if she should create two separate 529 accounts for kids, or stick with one. In our money tip of the week, what you should do when a DM hits your inbox promising “a sure way to beat the market.”


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All advisory services offered through Financial Engines Advisors L.L.C. (FEA), a federally registered investment advisor. Results are not guaranteed. AM1969416

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