Nearly anyone can start a Twitter account and post 140 characters of information at a time, bogus or not, a fact a new study's participants seemed to grasp. The study is published in Springer's journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review by lead investigator Kimberly Fenn, assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University. It is the first such study to examine social media and false memory.
Participants were college students, average age 19, from the so-called "Millennial Generation." Twitter, with 230 million users, is most popular among 18- to 29-year-olds.
Fenn and MSU colleagues showed 74 undergraduates a series of images on a computer that depicted a story of a man robbing a car. False information about the story was then presented in a scrolling text feed that bore a high resemblance to Twitter or in a feed from a more traditional online source.
The researchers tested whether the students integrated the bogus information into their minds, which psychologists call false memory. The results showed that when the participants read the Twitter feed, they were much less likely to form false memories about the story.
Fenn said the students were more mistrustful of the Twitter feed than they were of the more traditional feed.
"Our findings indicate young people are somewhat wary of information that comes from Twitter. It's a good sign," said Fenn. "We propose young adults are taking into account the medium of the message when integrating information into memory."
Reference: Fenn, K. M. et al (2014). The effect of Twitter exposure on false memory formation, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. DOI 10.3758/s13423-014-0639-9.