As prefaced in our post of March 18, political thought happens primarily in the emotional center of the brain, not in the reasoning center. And consuming news with only one viewpoint tends to hardwire certain emotional connections, making it harder to “think” independently about political issues.
In 2019 Gordon Pennycook, a psychology researcher at the University of Regina in Canada, and his team found a variety of factors which may make individuals more or less susceptible to “fake news.” Using news items related to the polarized political climate in the US, they concluded that the abilities to think analytically and open-mindedly were the main drivers in successful fake news detection, a conclusion that might seem to contradict the findings about the emotional aspect of political reasoning.
A follow-up study involving experts in government and public policy sought to build upon Pennycook’s work by assessing fake news detection in a sample of UK participants. Participants’ responses to the veracity of various news items generated an overall fake news detection score. On average, participants were more likely than not to make the correct evaluation. But it was determined that those who tested with higher levels of emotional intelligence were even better at discarding the overly emotional and hyperbolic content that is often part of fake news, letting them place greater focus on the content itself.
This result is somewhat similar to studies of risk assessment. People who are more emotionally intelligent are better able to understand their emotional responses to the possibility of risk and discount those that are not analytically relevant.
The moral of this story? Raising emotional intelligence is not just for the purpose of being “nicer.” Emotionally intelligent people are better able to discern emotion in news content and in their own responses in order, in the end, to be more analytical.