In two studies at Linköping University, researchers examined the link between so-called truth relativism and the risk of falling victim to false or misleading information.
The first study involved about a thousand Swedes. Through an online form, participants were asked to answer questions about their view of what reality is. After that, they had to take a stand on various conspiracy theories and also evaluate the content of several nonsensical sentences.
The researchers also collected information on factors found to be associated with belief in misinformation, such as analytical thinking skills, political orientation, age, gender, and level of education.
In the second study, about 400 people from Great Britain participated. Here the battery of questions expanded and the researchers measured the participants’ level of dogmatism and their willingness to modify their beliefs when confronted with new facts.
True relativism Refers to the belief that there is no absolute or objective truth. It may depend on which culture or group you belong to. It is also called Cultural relativism.
Stubbornness Sticking to your own theory, belief or opinion – that alone is correct.
The truth contributes to resistance
The researchers revealed two types of truth relativism from the content: on the one hand, those who believe that what you personally perceive is true, i.e. truth is subjective. People who believe that truth depends on which culture or group a person belongs to are called cultural relativism.
The result clearly shows that those who believe that truth is subjective are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories and cling to their beliefs in the face of conflicting facts. They have a greater tendency to read deep messages as nonsense sentences.
– I think many people who put forward a very relativistic view of what truth is mean well. They believe it is important for everyone to have their voice heard. But these results show that such a view is actually very dangerous, says researcher Julia Aspernas at Linköping University.
Even when researchers examined other possible explanations, such as analytical thinking ability or political orientation, subjectivism remained an independent, explanatory factor. For those who believe that truth is culturally bound and that its results point in somewhat different directions, the connections are almost as unclear.
reflected in the political debate
To the researchers’ surprise, the UK data collection showed a link between subjectivism and dogmatism. Someone who claims that truth is personal can, paradoxically, at the same time deny others the right to their own truth.
Julia Aspernas believes the results will be useful when listening to political discussions, for example about school. People may have different opinions on factual issues, but there may be fundamental differences of opinion about how the world works and what lies behind it.
– The idea came to me when I heard discussions about whether students should learn true knowledge or be encouraged to seek what they think is true. As if the debaters had diametrically opposed assumptions about what truth is, and that their approach is the best for students to become critical thinkers, Julia Aspernas continues:
– Although our study did not investigate causal relationships, we find that truth relativism is linked to greater belief in misinformation. Being with you can be important, he says.
Misconceptions in a post-truth world: The effects of subjectivism and cultural relativism on nonsense acceptability and conspiracy theory., Journal of Research in Personality.
Julia Aspernas, PhD student in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Learning at Linköping University, [email protected]
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