Nav: Home

Media research: What readers think about computer-generated texts

May 03, 2016

An experimental study carried out by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich media researchers has found that readers rate texts generated by algorithms more credible than texts written by real journalists.

Readers like to read texts generated by computers, especially when they are unaware that what they are reading was assembled on the basis of an algorithm. This, at any rate, is the conclusion suggested by the results of an experiment recently conducted by LMU media researchers. In the study, 986 subjects were asked to read and evaluate online news stories. Articles which the participants believed to have been written by journalists were consistently given higher marks for readability, credibility and journalistic expertise than those that were flagged as computer-generated -- even in cases where the real "author" was in fact a computer.

Several media outlets already regularly publish texts put together by computer programs. Perhaps the best known of those that have adopted the practice -- sometimes dubbed 'robot journalism' -- is the well-known news agency Associated Press. German publishers have also begun to make use of algorithms to compile texts. At the moment, these are most likely to turn up on the sports pages and in the financial section, as news reports in these fields tend to be based on source data that are already structured in predictable ways.

Dr. Andreas Graefe and Professor Hans-Bernd Brosius at LMU's Department for Communication Studies and Media Research (IfKW) have now investigated how readers perceive and respond to news stories generated by computers. The results of their study appear in the latest issue of Journalism. Graefe and colleagues chose two texts from the online editions of popular German news outlets. One was a report of a soccer match, the other was devoted to the market performance of shares issued by an automotive supplier. In addition, they used an algorithm developed at the Fraunhofer Institute for Communication, Information Processing and Ergonomics to generate texts on the same subjects.

Each participant in the study was then given a sports text and a business text to read, together with a note stating whether they had been written by a journalist or a computer program. What the experimental subjects did not know was that, in some cases, the information given in these notes was deliberately misleading, i.e. untrue.

When they analyzed the results of the experiment, the LMU researchers discovered that their study population found articles actually or putatively written by humans to be more readable than computer-generated texts. In spite of this preference, however, the latter were judged to be more credible than the stories actually written by journalists. This second finding surprised even the designers of the experiment. "The automatically generated texts are full of facts and figures -- and the figures are listed to two decimal places. We believe that this impression of precision strongly contributes to the perception that they are more trustworthy," says Mario Haim of the IfKW, one of the authors of the paper. However, with respect to readability, readers always rated articles attributed to real journalists more favorably -- even when the attribution was false. "To explain this finding, we assume that readers' expectations differ depending on whether they believe the text to have been written by a person or a machine, and that this preconception influences their perception of the text concerned," says Haim. A more critical approach to computer-based texts might also result from the fact that readers have little experience with such reports. Overall, however, the differences in assessment of the two types of text were relatively small. "We would argue that this suggests that brief, computer-generated texts dealing with sporting events or business and finance are already very appealing to readers," Haim concludes.
-end-


Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

Related Articles Articles:

Wikipedia articles on plane crashes show what we remember -- or forget
Disastrous current events trigger collective memory of certain past events, a new study of nearly 1,500 Wikipedia articles on airplane crashes and other incidents reports.
Collection of articles examines racial, gender issues in academic medicine
New research published online by JAMA Internal Medicine examines race and gender issues in academic medicine.
AGU's newest open access journal GeoHealth publishes first articles
The American Geophysical Union (AGU) and Wiley today announced that GeoHealth, AGU's newest open access journal, has published its first set of articles.
Indoor tanning, sun safety articles published by JAMA Dermatology
Two original investigations on indoor tanning and sun safety by authors from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, are being published online to coincide with their presentation at the American Academy of Dermatology annual meeting.
How your brain makes articles go viral
New fMRI research reveals what goes on in the brain when people decide to share news articles with others.
JAMA Internal Medicine publishes collection of articles on conflicts of interest
JAMA Internal Medicine is publishing a collection of articles on conflicts of interest, including two original investigations, two research letters and a commentary.
JAMA Internal Medicine publishes more articles on firearm violence
JAMA Internal Medicine is publishing another collection of articles on firearm violence, including two original investigations, two commentaries and an editorial.
Future Science Group shares top Zika-related articles
Future Science Group has today announced that they are making some top review and commentary articles freely available, to aid the Zika research effort.
Free articles on Aedes albopictus, mosquitoes that may transmit Zika
Oxford University Press and the Entomological Society of America have released a special collection of free articles on the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus).
Centennial Awards honor outstanding GENETICS articles
The Genetics Society of America (GSA) and the Editorial Board of the journal GENETICS are pleased to announce the winners of the first Centennial Award for outstanding articles published in GENETICS in 2015.

Related Articles Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...