Are accuracy discernment and sharing of COVID-19 misinformation associated with older age and lower neurocognitive functioning?

Anastasia Matchanova, Steven Paul Woods, Clayton Neighbors, Luis D. Medina, Kenneth Podell, Ilex Beltran-Najera, Christina Alex, Michelle A. Babicz, Jennifer L. Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The online proliferation of COVID-19 misinformation led to adverse health and societal consequences. This study investigated possible differences in COVID-19 headline accuracy discernment and online sharing of COVID-19 misinformation between older and younger adults, as well as the role of individual differences in global cognition, health literacy and verbal IQ. Fifty-two younger (18–35 years old) and fifty older adults (age 50 and older) completed a neurocognitive battery, health literacy and numeracy measures, and self-report questionnaires via telephone. Participants also completed a social media headline-sharing experiment (Pennycook et al., Psychological science, 31(7), 770–780, 2020) in which they were presented with true and false COVID-19 headlines about which they indicated: 1) the likelihood that they would share the story on social media; and 2) the factual accuracy of the story. A repeated measures multivariate analysis of variance controlling for gender and race/ethnicity showed no effects of age (p =.099) but a significant interaction between actual COVID-19 headline accuracy and the likelihood of sharing (p <.001), such that accuracy was more strongly related to sharing false headlines (r = −.64) versus true headlines (r = −.43). Moreover, a higher likelihood of sharing false COVID-19 headlines was associated with lower verbal IQ and numeracy skills in older adults (rs = −.51--.40) and with lower verbal IQ, numeracy, and global cognition in younger adults (rs = −.66--.60). Findings indicate that headline accuracy judgements, numeracy, and verbal IQ are important contributors to sharing COVID-19 misinformation in both older and younger adults. Future work might examine the benefits of psychoeducation for improving health and science literacy for COVID-19.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalCurrent Psychology
Early online dateMar 8 2023
StateE-pub ahead of print - Mar 8 2023


  • Aging
  • COVID-19 misinformation
  • Health literacy
  • Neurocognition
  • Numeracy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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