back to news Feb. 29, 2012

Communication Professor Awarded NSF CAREER Award

R Kelly Garrett, assistant professor, School of Communication, has been awardeda five-year $500,000 National Science Foundation's Early Career Development Award (CAREER), the NSF’s most prestigious award in support of junior faculty. Garrett's grant will support his research into the ways in which social networks and recommendation systems might influence U.S. political misperceptions.

Scholars have observed that online news and political talk have the potential to promote belief in false or misleading factual claims, frequently attributing this to distinctive characteristics of the Internet such as the absence of gatekeepers, the freedom to screen out disagreeable evidence, and personalization systems that shield news consumers from uncomfortable truths. However, these mechanisms are largely speculative, and do not align well with existing data. Garrett's project moves toward a theoretically grounded and empirically tested understanding of political misperceptions in the Internet era.

Garrett's study will pair multi-wave surveys of representative samples of Americans with a series of controlled experiments designed to evaluate the specific mechanisms theorized. A three-wave survey will be conducted in year one, and a two-wave survey in year five, corresponding with U.S. Presidential elections. Measuring respondents' use of various online political news sources and services in early waves, and assessing respondents' store of political knowledge and misperceptions in later waves will provide clear evidence concerning the consequences of using these Internet technologies.

The first survey will also include an embedded experiment in order to test the influence of processing fluency in the field. A series of interrelated experiments will be conducted in the intervening years. These experiments will examine a variety of factors, including the influence of metacognitive experiences, such as processing fluency, on the acceptance of false information and factual corrections; the influence of emotional responses to political claims on individuals' assessments; and biased assimilation as it informs credibility effects, and on the relative importance of institutional trust and individual judgment on participants' beliefs.