SYRACUSE, N.Y. – According to a revealing new report published Friday by researchers at Syracuse University, people are unable to tell the difference between factual headlines and completely made-up nonsense.
“It’s astounding,” said Dr. Tonya McClure, the lead researcher of the study. “Across all demographics and political ideologies, humans are universally terrible at making even the most basic distinctions between reality and nonsense. Honestly, the results depressed me.”
McClure and her team showed subjects a collection of headlines that consisted equally of genuine news stories and totally goofball jokes. Almost no one was able to do better than 35%. The only notable exception was a group of teenagers, who managed to get 50% by thinking they would be funny to say all the headlines were fake.
McClure suggests a combination of reasons as to why we seem incapable of making this seemingly simple distinction. Her leading theory is that news organizations have become more sensational in their attempts to grab the attention of as many readers as possible, which has morphed headlines into grotesque caricatures of themselves. At the same time, our society itself has become increasingly absurd, to the point that things which actually happen seem like jokes.
“Is Donald Trump really number two in the polls among GOP voters?” McClure asked. “No one seems to know.”
McClure also theorized that people don’t really care about the validity of headlines, as they rarely bother to verify if there is any truth to them.
“How do you know I actually did the study?” she asked. “Maybe I made this whole thing up.”