People rely on social information to inform their beliefs. We ask whether and to what degree the perceived prevalence of a belief influences belief adoption. We present the results of two experiments that show how increases in a person’s estimated prevalence of a belief led to increased endorsement of said belief. Belief endorsement rose when impressions of the belief’s prevalence were increased and when initial beliefs were uncertain, as predicted by a Bayesian cue integration framework. Thus, people weigh social information rationally. An implication of these results is that social engagement metrics that prompt inflated prevalence estimates in users risk increasing the believability and adoption of viral misinformation posts.
Competing Interests: The authors declare no conflict of interest.