How Behavioral Science Can Help Us Understand Fake News

In today's interconnected world, fake news has become a pervasive issue that impacts not just individual beliefs but also shapes public opinion and policy.

While technology and political science discussions dominate on tackling fake news, behavioral science is an area of interest that could provide real answers regarding spreading misinformation.

This interdisciplinary field offers a window into why fake news is so captivating and how human actions contribute to its spread.

Read on to learn how the deep structures within our minds influence our perceptions and make us susceptible to engaging with fake news.

How Behavioral Science Can Help Us Understand Fake News

A woman sitting on a couch while multiple hands holding a telephone, tablets, and laptops are trying to get her attention.

Through the lens of behavioral science research, we gain insight into the world of fake news.

What is Behavioral Science?

Behavioral science is an expansive domain that scrutinizes human behavior by drawing upon multiple fields, including psychology, economics, and social sciences. In his influential book "Thinking, Fast, and Slow," Daniel Kahneman divides human thought into two systems—System 1, which is fast and intuitive, and System 2, which is slow and analytical.

This dual-system framework is particularly insightful for understanding the spread of fake news. It helps explain how quick, intuitive judgments (System 1) can sometimes lead to the spreading of false information, while slower, more deliberate thought processes (System 2) may be scrutinizing its authenticity.

Understanding the nuances between System 1 and System 2 provides an opportunity for researchers and policymakers to tackle the issue of fake news. For example, consider a scenario where an individual comes across a sensational headline that aligns with their preexisting beliefs or political stance.

System 1, the fast and intuitive thinking process, may immediately label this headline trustworthy due to its alignment with the individual's worldview. This could lead to a quick decision to share the headline on social media without critically examining the source or the article's content.

In this example, System 1's reliance on heuristics or mental shortcuts, such as confirmation bias, contributes to the rapid spread of potentially false or misleading information. The individual bypasses the more analytical and deliberate System 2, foregoing an opportunity to scrutinize the authenticity of the news. Therefore, System 1 can play a pivotal role in spreading fake news when it operates on biased or unexamined assumptions, underscoring the importance of designing interventions that encourage more analytical System 2 thinking.

What are the 4 Behavioral Sciences?

Terms like behavioral sciences are more general and abstract, sheltering a myriad of disciplines, each offering a unique lens to dissect human behavior and its intricate relationship with phenomena like fake news.

  • Psychology: It delves into the internal mental processes that govern human actions. Cognitive biases, such as confirmation bias or availability heuristics, are crucial in understanding why fake news is consumed and widely disseminated.
  • Sociology: This discipline shifts the focus from the individual to the collective, analyzing how social structures and norms influence human behavior. In the context of fake news, sociology exposes how societal values and groupthink can lead to the viral spread of misinformation.
  • Anthropology: Anthropologists study human behavior across diverse cultures. They provide insights into how cultural values and traditions can amplify or mitigate fake news's impact. The cultural variations in interpreting or valuing information are vital in comprehending the global scale of fake news dissemination.
  • Behavioral Economics: This field explores how individuals often deviate from rational decision-making, particularly when evaluating the credibility of information. Models like 'Prospect Theory,' developed by Kahneman and Tversky, shed light on how people make choices under uncertainty. The theory posits that people are often more influenced by the potential for losses than equivalent gains. In the realm of fake news, this can manifest as a disproportionate reaction to negative or alarming stories, compelling individuals to share such news more readily in an attempt to "warn" others, even if the information has not been verified for accuracy.

Is Behavioral Science similar to psychology?

Even though psychology and behavioral sciences are connected, they are not synonymous.

While the traditional study of psychology zeroes in on individual mental processes, behavioral science casts a wider net.

It seeks to generalize about human behavior by incorporating elements from diverse areas like social psychology, economics, and anthropology. The research shows the necessity for this multidimensional approach, recognizing the significance of social context in shaping views,

In addition, the field of behavioral science incorporates large-scale societal studies, economic models, and anthropological fieldwork, among other techniques, to present a more comprehensive view of human behavior. This multifaceted methodology allows behavioral scientists to tackle complex societal issues like fake news in a manner that accounts for a wide range of human experiences and influences.

As such, applied behavioral science complements and enriches the insights gained from psychology, offering a broader and more holistic understanding of the phenomena under study.

Is Behavioral Science a Good Degree?

A man in a costume with a graduation hat happily holds his graduation paper.

Studying behavioral sciences can provide a deep understanding of the mechanisms that govern the human mind and people’s interactions.

Behavioral science can be a good degree, depending on your goals, aspirations, and ambitions. It is not a clear-cut answer that will fit with everyone's path.

If you are interested in exploring the myriad facets of human behavior, dissecting social problems, and determining what influences public policy, a degree in behavioral science can offer a robust foundation.

Given today's complex socio-cultural environment, laden with challenges like fake news, public health crises, and other significant societal issues, a behavioral science degree offers interdisciplinary tools to navigate these complexities.

Here at Meridian University, we guide our students through our Psychology Program toward a more holistic approach to understanding the human mind that is based on the same philosophy underlying a behavioral science degree.

Our program welcomes anthropological perspectives, insights that come from spiritual traditions, and ideas from sociology linked together with a rigorous study of the human psyche.

Join us on a multidisciplinary journey toward exploring the depths of the mind by emailing an Admission Advisor to learn more about our programs.


  1. Daniel, K. (2017). Thinking, fast and slow.
  2. Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1974). Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases: Biases in judgments reveal some heuristics of thinking under uncertainty. science, 185(4157), 1124-1131.
  3. Cialdini, R. B., Kallgren, C. A., & Reno, R. R. (1991). A focus theory of normative conduct: A theoretical refinement and reevaluation of the role of norms in human behavior. In Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 24, pp. 201-234). Academic Press.
  4. Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1974). Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases: Biases in judgments reveal some heuristics of thinking under,185(4157), 1124-1131.

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