Nearly anyone can start a Twitter account and post 140 characters of information at a time, bogus or not, a fact the study's participants seemed to grasp, said Kimberly Fenn, assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University.
"Our findings suggest young people are somewhat wary of information that comes from Twitter. It's a good sign," said Fenn, lead investigator on the study. The study is the first to examine social media and false memory. Participants were college students from the so-called Millennial Generation - those with birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s.
Twitter, with 230 million users, is most popular among people in their teens and 20s. 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. "We propose young adults are taking into account the medium of the message when integrating information into memory," Fenn said.
The study was published in the Springer research journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.