A Report published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest
on research done by Drs. Stephen Lewandowsky and Ullrich Ecker, who are out of The University of Western Australia, concluded that rejecting incorrect information is more difficult to do than simply accepting a message’s validity. In other words, the truth is often harder to accept than a lie that you want to believe.
False information that is disseminated to the public is very hard to undo. In fact, the attempt to undo the message often results in a greater adherence to the original false statement. Examples of these false facts are: President Obama was not born in the U.S. or global warming is a myth.
Once people hear this type of misinformation, and depending upon their pre-existing views on such things as religion, politics, or personal worldview; they are likely to accept the deception as truth, particularly if it is in line with their way of thinking.
The researchers noted that this phenomenon is particularly unsettling in a democracy where people base decisions on information that at some level they know to be untrue.
Some misinformation is designed to scare people away from certain behaviors, such as getting vaccines or buying certain products. Of course politics is loaded with this type of communication and people definitely tend to get behind their own candidates lies and even start to genuinely believe them despite what the busy fact checkers have to say.
While it is extremely difficult to reverse this type of information the researchers did have some suggestions to help mitigate the strength of these false messages. They counsel people to offer alternative facts to replace the false information.
Just pointing out the falsehood could cause people to defend the lie further. Keep the focus on the facts that are in question not the myths. As with most effective communication, keep the alternative message brief and simple and lastly, repeat the new message often to strengthen its power.
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