Science Fair 2017

In order to graduate from Big Picture, students must pass the Vermont Science Fair, which is held every April at Norwhich University.  We started preparation at the beginning of the year, and by January we all knew what we were going to do our projects on. At first I was going to study synesthesia, which is a rare condition in which the five senses overlap in certain ways. This was an interesting topic to me because as a musician I have experienced synesthesia, but after writing the first draft  of my research paper I realized that I really wanted to be doing a different project.

Since the election I have been wanting to get more involved in political and social science. It really made me realize that I want to be learning about how people work. The science fair seemed like the perfect opportunity to do this, so I switched my project to a survey about fake news.

Survey

Research Paper On Mass Hysteria

Addison White 2017

Abstract

According to Psychology Today, Mass Hysteria is a form of Collective Group Behavior that occurs when a group of people is under the same amount of psychological stress caused by the same incident. Symptoms can range from simply feeling anxious, to remembering things that never happened, to actual physical symptoms and psychosis . It is most commonly, though not exclusively, displayed among adolescents.  In the age of social media, it is easier to share information than ever, as was amplified by the intense influx of “fake news”  in this past election cycle. For this study, based on a New York Times study from 2016, subjects were asked about news headlines they may have seen, and whether or not they believe them. Half of the headlines were invented by the researcher, and the majority of the subjects said that they seen those articles. This experiment explores that, as well as people’s general ability to identify fake news, and whether or not that correlates with the age of the participant.

Background

. A staple of Mass Hysteria is a rampant collective reaction to a rumor or a threat, whether existent not. In the past this has spread because of people being in a close vicinity with one another, but  with social media usage growing rapidly every day, the way in which we receive information has drastically changed. Now, with news at our fingertips and the ability to share it in under 30 seconds, sharing information suddenly becomes incredibly simple. No matter your side, the 2016 election was inevitably tense. Both Democrats and Republicans felt the worst case scenario was the other side winning. Whichever way you sliced it, people’s anxiety and frustration levels were up. This in and of itself is enough to create a collective group behavioral anomaly like Mass Hysteria. With the added ability to share instantly to a platform of millions of people, it is no wonder that fake news had the success it did. During the election there was a lot of this on both sides, and the publishing of opinion pieces and not clarifying that they were not news certainly did not help.

Hypothesis

Though we tend to follow in our parents footsteps when it comes to politics, young people are naturally more apt to simply support what they believe in instead sticking to a strict party. Because of this, young people are less likely to fall prey to confirmation bias. To add to this, adolescents have grown up with the internet and therefore have a better inherent understanding of how much it can be manipulated, and therefore are less likely to fall for fake news.

 

Procedure  

The first step in the procedure for this was to look for similar studies and collect news articles.  An even number of real ones and ones that had been proven to be false, as well as a handful of made up headlines that had never been published were included..The survey was then put out on Facebook with a request for people to share it in hopes of easily reaching a larger number. The survey was heavily based off of a congruent survey put out by the New York Times in January of 2017

Data Analysis

It is hard to analyze this kind of project because without knowing things like the political background  of the people who took the survey, there is a large margin of error. The majority of the people who took my survey were able to identify fake news from real, regardless of age. The majority of the people  who were unable to identify fake news were in between the ages of 35 and 55, however, taking margin of error into account, it is hard to count this seeing as there were not many people who took the survey in between that age range. Based on the fairly small amount of people who took the survey, along with the group of people it reached, the margin of error here is fairly large.

 

Conclusions

The data generated by this study shows that age doesn’t come into play when differentiating between fake news and real news. I believe that there is room to explore this more. Because of the way I collected data, the pool I was drawing from, and the  amount of people who responded to my survey, it is hard to draw a definitive conclusion from my data alone. However,  combining this with the New York Times study proves that it is not simply young people to blame for the  fake news epidemic, it was everybody.

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