In Psychology Today, Christopher Dwyer, researcher in psychology at the National University of Ireland in Galway, notes 7 psychological functions that contribute to making people vulnerable to false news and more generally to disinformation.
Confirmation bias refers to the preference given to information that confirms our beliefs. We are more likely to believe fake news if we agree with what is said and, conversely, more skeptical of fake news that goes against it.
Assessing the credibility of a news source includes evaluating the sources of the allegations, looking for evidence (rather than opinions, anecdotes or beliefs), looking for confirmations in other media, and evaluating the credentials of the author, publisher and / or website.
If a topic is important to a person, they're less likely to spend time and effort doing that review, which will make them more likely to believe fake news on that topic.
Even if a topic is important to a person and they have the ability to assess credibility, the abundance of information and lack of time can make them vulnerable.
We quickly scroll through news feeds or search results. In order to attract the click in this context, the titles are often biased in order to be sensationalistic. Readers in a hurry who read only headlines may believe this biased information.
As described by psychologist Daniel Kahneman (2002 Nobel Laureate in Economics), the human tendency is to default to intuitive, fast, and automatic thinking, and to resort to analytical thinking only in cases where intuitive thinking proves insufficient. This operation saves time and energy in everyday life, but makes it more likely to draw inaccurate conclusions, for example by choosing to believe false news.
A hallmark of disinformation (fake news and propaganda) is often that it appeals to emotions such as fear or anger rather than logic, which promotes intuitive processing of information rather than critical and reflective reasoning.
The effect of the illusion of truth refers to the phenomenon that the more we are exposed to certain information, the more likely we are to believe it.
Even if this information is later refuted, the misinformation can remain in memory and implicitly affect the way of thinking in related contexts. Echo chambers occurring in social media can amplify repetition of posts. (On the website of the Association for Psychological Science: Fake News Can Lead to False Memories)
Social pressure plays an important role. Politics and social perspectives are based on beliefs about how things should be done. Education or the workplace often exerts a certain level of social pressure to conform to the views of the environment. Friendships are also largely based on similarity and common ground.
But just because the majority believe in something doesn't mean it's true.