Trust in information, political identity and the brain: An interdisciplinary fMRI study

Adam Moore (Lead Author), Sujin Hong, Laura Cram

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Misinformation has triggered government inquiries and threatens the perceived legitimacy of campaign processes and electoral outcomes. A new identity polarization has arisen between Remain and Leave sympathizers in the UK Brexit debate, with associated accusations of misinformation use. Competing psychological accounts of how people come to accept and defend misinformation pit self-reinforcing motivated cognition against lack of systematic reasoning as possible explanations. We harness insights from political science, cognitive neuroscience and psychology to examine the impact of trust and identity on information processing regarding Brexit in a group of Remain identifiers. Behaviourally, participants' affective responses to Brexit-related information are affected by whether the emotional valence of the message is compatible with their beliefs on Brexit (positive/negative) but not by their trust in the source of information. However, belief in the information is significantly affected by both (dis)trust in information source and by belief compatibility with the valence of the information. Neuroimaging results confirm this pattern, identifying areas involved in judgements of the self, others and automatic processing of affectively threatening stimuli, ultimately supporting motivated cognition accounts of misinformation endorsement.

This article is part of the theme issue ‘The political brain: neurocognitive and computational mechanisms’.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1822
Early online date22 Feb 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Feb 2021


  • trust
  • identity
  • functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)
  • media and information source


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