Bratislava, 29 August 2022: Slovak scientists investigated whether young people could distinguish true health-related information from false. Only 48 % of teenagers believed actual health news more than fake ones. On the other hand, 41 % of participants found false news to be as credible as true news. The remaining 11 % trusted true health reports even less than false ones. The research by psychologists from Comenius University Bratislava and the Slovak Academy of Sciences has just been published in Frontiers of Psychology.

30. 08. 2022 09.06 hod.
By: CU External Relations Office

Health-related information and misinformation represents a serious public health concern. In recent years, misinformation has increasingly been spreading on social networks. Previous research shows that online health news is often incomplete and incorrect, and contains potentially harmful medical information. Absorbing such news can lead to poor health-care decisions, risky behaviour, or a loss of trust in medical authorities.

"During the COVID pandemic, we observed an explosion of misinformation in the health sector," says lead researcher Radomír Masaryk from Comenius University. Most research so far has focused on the adult population, so the research team decided to focus on teenagers instead. "Since adolescents are frequent Internet users, we usually expect them to know how to obtain and use information available online, but the opposite seems to be true," adds psychologist Radomír Masaryk.

Researchers found that 41% of teenagers could not tell the difference between true and false health information. Moreover, they did not consider language errors in the texts to be signs of their unreliability. When evaluating online information, they mainly notice site structure, language, and appearance. They place more trust in reliable organizations, established brands or sites using more cultivated language.

Researchers performed the survey on a sample of 300 secondary school students aged 16 to 19 to find out how they perceived the credibility of seven short news reports on the health benefits of fruits and vegetables. The news articles were varied: some were false, some were true with a neutral context, and some were true, but with added elements (superlatives, clickbait, grammatical errors, confirmation by authority, bold type).

Research points to the importance of educating young people on how to process health news, increase their media literacy, as well as improve their analytical thinking and fact-based reasoning.