Fake news isn’t our only problem these days – so are fake photos and our apparent inability to spot them. (And, to be fair, they can often be one in the same.) A new study revealed that people can only tell an image is doctored 60 percent of time. Sure, that’s more than half of the time, you might think. Not so bad. But then consider that only 45 percent could tell what was actually wrong with the photo.
The study was published in the journal Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications on July 18. The team of researchers conducted two different experiments: one in which they asked participants to take an image quiz and answer whether the photos were fake or not. The other asked people to find what was wrong with a photo – even if they couldn’t find an issue with it. In the first experiment, 707 adult men and women were surveyed. They were shown photos that were altered in five different ways: airbrushing, adding or removing objects, removing certain geometrical parts of a photo like a column from a bridge, changing or removing the shadow direction, and lastly, a photo that included all of these changes. In this experiment, the researchers noted that people can tell the difference between a real and fake photo, but finding what’s actually fake in a photo wasn’t that easy.
The second experiment consisted of 659 adult men and women, except this time people were told to find the “manipulation” in the photo – even if they couldn’t determine that there was one in the first place. This experiment yielded similar results: 62 percent could tell when a photo was an original and when one was fake. However, in 18 percent of doctored photos, people knew when a photo was fake but not what part of it was messed with.
So where does this leave us in the world of fake news? Most definitely not in a good place, since most people don’t look at images in the media or online with the assumption that something might be off. If you’re curious to test your own abilities, the research team has a version of the study online you can take.