Sticky misinformation stays with you until you actively peel it off

Another gem from the researcher that brought us news about conspiracy beliefs.

Misinformation: Why it sticks and how to fix it.

Why does that kind of misinformation stick? A new report published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, explores this phenomenon.

The main reason that misinformation is sticky, according to the researchers, is that rejecting information actually requires cognitive effort. Weighing the plausibility and the source of a message is cognitively more difficult than simply accepting that the message is true — it requires additional motivational and cognitive resources. If the topic isn’t very important to you or you have other things on your mind, misinformation is more likely to take hold.

Misinformation is especially sticky when it conforms to our preexisting political, religious, or social point of view. Because of this, ideology and personal worldviews can be especially difficult obstacles to overcome.

Though misinformation may be difficult to correct, all is not lost. According to Lewandowsky, “psychological science has the potential to counteract all those harms by educating people and communicators about the power of misinformation and how to meet it.”

Research has shown that attempts at “debiasing” can be effective in the real world when based on these evidence-based strategies.

Tip: DJ Grothe

The full paper is available here. I LOVE when papers are freely online! This looks like one worth a full read.

As I’ve pointed out before, Lewandowsky wrote the Debunking Handbook with John Cook. That PDF is an excellent resource that uses the strategies in this paper but put into an easier to follow format. Get that here (PDF).

It makes complete sense that it’s harder to discard information when you must actively reject it. I just want an easy way to make the case to those who are “stuck” on paranormal and pseudoscientific beliefs. Someone figure that out.

This is what this site is all about. I’m not optimistic to think the success rate is very high but all we can do is try to plant a seed of though hoping that maybe some day, a person will chose to release the sticky stuff and embrace a better explanation.

  3 comments for “Sticky misinformation stays with you until you actively peel it off

  1. September 23, 2012 at 4:18 PM

    HEY! Someone should have told me I missed a link above.


  2. September 29, 2012 at 12:07 PM

    Misinformation synergizes with a lack of understanding, too. For example, the popular “natural is good, chemical is bad” – made much worse by the lack of chemistry education in most of the population. There are a lot of people who not only don’t remember their high school chemistry, but didn’t take it at all. Chemistry was an elective past grade 10, and in grade 10 it was a module in the general science course, not a course on its own.

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