Educational Levels Can Affect Susceptibility to Misinformation

Khadija Boufous Khadija Boufous
23rd February 2023
Educational Levels Can Affect Susceptibility to Misinformation
Religious beliefs did not impact belief in scientific misinformation (Getty)

A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Portsmouth examined the impact of people’s educational levels on their belief in scientific misinformation and trust in preventive measures. 

Education Affects People’s Belief in Scientific Misinformation

The study found that both scientific misinformation and trust in preventive measures were significantly associated with participants’ educational levels. Meanwhile, people’s religious beliefs did not have any impact on their belief in scientific misinformation and trust in preventive measures.  

Based on a survey that was carried out between December 2021 and February 2022, the report highlighted a clear negative correlation between people’s belief in COVID-19 misinformation and their trust in preventive measures.

The study discovered that people with a university degree were less likely to believe in COVID-19 misinformation and more likely to trust preventive measures than those without a degree.

For the researchers, another similar analysis in the U.K. reported that low compliance with preventive measures was associated with low confidence in the government. According to the report, these observations were in line with the outcomes of their study regarding the mistrust in governmental preventive measures correlated with beliefs in alternative narratives about the pandemic.

The report mentioned another survey conducted on a French population sample found that individuals prone to conspiracies are less willing to comply with government-backed preventive measures.

However, the report highlighted that people’s behavior, in this case, may be moderated by the motivation to protect themselves. Despite engaging in conspiratorial thinking, individuals may respect the preventive measures if they perceive themselves at serious risk.

The study also discovered that neither belief in COVID-19 misinformation nor trust in preventive measures were statistically associated with participants’ likelihood of having contracted the virus.

This result reinforces the fact that preventive measures, including vaccinations, face mask use, and social distancing, rely on widespread community adoption. This is because the virus propagates unless the majority of individuals engage in adopting the preventive measures.

Dr. Alessandro Siani, Associate Head (Students) in the School of Biological Sciences, said: “Despite its limitations, this study furthers our understanding of the links between scientific misinformation and reluctance to comply with infection-prevention measures.”

“It is unlikely that COVID-19 will be the last pandemic we'll experience in our lifetimes, so it is important to learn as much as we can from our past experiences to improve our global responses to future challenges,” Siani added.

Is Education Enough to Counter Misinformation?

Although many experts confirmed that good education could help counter misinformation, other media analysts found that education alone is insufficient to combat online medical misinformation since educational interventions have several limitations. 

According to scientific reports, education requires motivated individuals to seek and voluntarily engage in the process. That is what complicates the outreach to populations with lower digital media literacy. 

Moreover, even educational content published in prominent journals or promoted by scientific organizations faces many obstructions and will not eliminate vulnerability to misinformation.

Researchers suggest that educational interventions aimed at improving the detection of online health misinformation may not necessarily lead to a reduction in the sharing of such misinformation. Thus, interventions that fail to address the issue of misinformation sharing are incomplete. Sharing false narratives can actually serve to expose misinformation and ultimately reinforce the belief in its truth, which is why it's important to address both the detection and sharing of online health misinformation.

Combating misinformation is a joint responsibility of global citizens, governmental institutions, tech and media companies, and other stakeholders. Media literacy and developing critical thinking are also crucial to easily prevent misinformation, especially since individuals in many regions get their daily news through navigating floods of information on social media platforms, a fertile area for the spread of misinformation.

Misbar’s Sources:


News Medical Life Science

National Library of Medicine

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