Exaggerated and Questioning Clickbait Headlines and Their Influence on Media Learning

Nick Carcioppolo, Di Lun, Soroya Julian McFarlane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Headlines that are incongruous with article content can negatively impact media learning outcomes. Clickbait headlines intentionally misrepresent news content, often in sensational ways to increase click-throughs and ad revenue. To evaluate the impact of clickbait headlines on media learning and article-related beliefs, we conducted two online experiments, each testing a 3 (headline-type: accurate, clickbait-question, clickbait-exaggerated) × 2 (exposure: headline-only, full article) factorial. In Study 1, an online sample of US adults (N = 629) was randomly assigned to one of six news message conditions. Study 2 (N = 1,674) was a replication study across three news contexts and testing a mediator to explain how exposure to a clickbait headline can influence learning. Key results suggest that reading the full article with an accurate headline resulted in the highest recognition and comprehension, and reading correcting information within an article is likely not enough to overcome the deleterious impact of a clickbait headline. Theoretical and practical recommendations are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Media Psychology
StateAccepted/In press - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • cancer news learning
  • clickbait
  • cognitive mediation model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Communication
  • Applied Psychology


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