Will research into misinformation solve the spread of fake news? Andrew Gordon discusses his work.

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Andrew Gordon is a PhD Researcher at the University of Bristol School of Experimental Psychology. He is currently investigating the continued influence effect of misinformation (CIEM).

Andrew Gordon researcher at the University of BristolCIEM is the effect that previously learned misinformation can have on a person’s subsequent judgement and reasoning. “Decades of psychological research has shown that people, despite receiving a retraction or correction, will continue to use information they know to be false in their decision making,” explains Andrew, pictured right.

Although there are many theories as to why someone would use information they actually know is wrong or untrue in their own reasoning, no-one has previously investigated the underlying biological correlates of CIEM. “That is where my research comes in,” says Andrew. “I, along with my colleagues, use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate what happens in the brain when people receive corrections of previous learned information, and subsequently what happens in the brain when they are later questioned about that information.”

“I think the thing that excites me most about my work is that it promises to enhance our understanding of a problem that seems to become more relevant every day”

Andrew gave a Science Cafe for the Bristol and Bath BSA back in July 2017 on the continued influence of misinformation. We caught up with Andrew to ask him a few questions about his research:

What was it that got you interested in a career in science, where did it start?
I have always had an interest in science, despite only being an average student at school. My interest in psychology in particular arose after taking some time away from education following my A Levels and travelling the world. During that time I read a lot of psychological literature and my interest grew organically from there.

What excites you most about the work you are currently doing? And where do you see this research being used in the future?
I think the thing that excites me most about my work is that it promises to enhance our understanding of a problem that seems to become more relevant every day. In this era of ‘post-truth’ politics and ‘fake news’, there has never been a greater amount of misinformation in the public sphere. By understanding the neural mechanisms associated with belief in misinformation, it may be the case that more targeted interventions to reduce mistaken belief can be developed. In terms of the future applications of this type of work, I think it could conceivably be used to change the way information and specifically corrective information, is disseminated to the public.

Tell us about the people involved in your research – are you collaborating with anyone?
I work with a small group of other researchers. My main supervisor Professor Stephan Lewandowsky is a cognitive scientist whose main focus is on the cognitive variables associated with the acceptance of scientific evidence and the updating of memory. He would be considered by many to be one of the top researchers in this field and has an extensive number of publications on the topic.

I also work closely with Dr Susanne Quadflieg. Dr Quadflieg is a social neuroscientist who chiefly studies aspects of person perception, person construal, and person understanding using neuroimaging techniques. I also work with Dr. Jon Brooks at the clinical research and imaging centre (CRIC) at Bristol University, he is an expert in fMRI techniques of psychological research. We also collaborate closely with researchers at the University of Western Australia (UWA), in particular Associate Professor Ullrich Ecker, considered by many to be the leading researcher in the field of misinformation effects.

Finally, what recent science news do you think has been the biggest breakthrough in the last year or so and why?
Personally I think that one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs this year has been the success of SpaceX. Aside from psychology I have always had an interest in everything related to space and I think that the results being shown by SpaceX (i.e., reusable boosters) are extremely exciting. I think this kind of research has the potential to revolutionise space-travel in the future.

If you are interested in participating in psychological research Andrew suggests the university’s website for a list of all currently recruiting studies. Soon to finish his PhD, Andrew will be moving on to a postdoctoral position at the University of California. We wish him all the best!

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