Research interests

This page provides an overview of my research interests. Information about specific papers can be found on the Papers page.


I am broadly interested in understanding how people form misperceptions and what we can do to prevent/correct them. I explore this question mainly in the context of social networking sites, where many kinds of misinformation are present and spread quickly. I also focus on satiric news as a source of misperceptions. I approach my work with a quantitative perspective and use a variety of methods, including online experiments, eye-tracking experiments, and panel data.

Below, I explore three themes in my research.

Why people believe falsehoods in news satire

Despite scholarly interest in misinformation and disinformation, there is little work examining why people sometimes believe falsehoods found in satire. This oversight is problematic since satire is consistently some of the most viral false stories in social media.  In one project using nationally representative panel data collected over 6 months, I demonstrate that satire made up 40% of the most viral false stories that circulated on social media. Further, I show that conclusions about how misperceptions form do not accurately explain why people believe claims from satire (Poulsen, Bond, & Garrett, minor revise and resubmit).

I also offer a novel theoretical framework explaining why people “fall for” satire (Poulsen & Garrett, in review). In an experiment, I show that people are more likely to fall for satire when they fail to recognize it is a joke. This is critical to understand because, while satire may seem obvious to some, recognition can be difficult in online spaces where there are few indicators that suggest a message is a joke (e.g., audible laughter).

How to prevent or correct satire-induced misperceptions

My dissertation examines how to best reduce satire-induced misperceptions. In this work, I advance two arguments. First, telling people that a message is satire before they read it (“prebunking”) will be more effective at reducing misperceptions than telling them after they read the satire (“debunking”). This assertion contradicts current scholarship that finds debunking is more effective than prebunking. Second, I argue that labeling a message as satire will not only reduce misperceptions, but it will also increase how funny the humor is to its audience. This challenges the extant humor scholarship that suggests labeling will make satire less funny, as the easiest way to ruin a joke is to explain it.

I will test my claims experimentally. If supported, these findings demonstrate the utility of labeling satire for both misperception and humorous outcomes, clarifying the mechanisms by which different misperception reduction strategies work and elucidating theoretical arguments about what makes satire funny.

This work is supported by a competitive grant (see my CV for details) and will be published as independent research.

Why people believe non-satiric falsehoods and how to best prevent them

Although satire is my primary focus, I also have work exploring other sources of misperceptions. In a mixed-methods experiment, I find that people can self-generate numeric misinformation without realizing it (Coronel et al., 2020).

I also examine misperception reduction strategies. I find that humorous video corrections are as effective as text-based, non-humorous fact checking articles (Young et al., 2019). I also find that saying non-humorous misinformation comes from a source that produces humor reduces misperceptions (Garrett & Poulsen, 2019). This line of work has resulted in several awards (see my CV for more details).