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Displacing Misinformation about Events: An Experimental Test of Causal Corrections

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 April 2015


Brendan Nyhan
Affiliation:
Department of Government, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, USA; e-mail: nyhan@dartmouth.edu
Jason Reifler
Affiliation:
Department of Politics, University of Exeter, Exeter, Devon, United Kingdom; e-mail: J.Reifler@exeter.ac.uk
Corresponding

Abstract

Misinformation can be very difficult to correct and may have lasting effects even after it is discredited. One reason for this persistence is the manner in which people make causal inferences based on available information about a given event or outcome. As a result, false information may continue to influence beliefs and attitudes even after being debunked if it is not replaced by an alternate causal explanation. We test this hypothesis using an experimental paradigm adapted from the psychology literature on the continued influence effect and find that a causal explanation for an unexplained event is significantly more effective than a denial even when the denial is backed by unusually strong evidence. This result has significant implications for how to most effectively counter misinformation about controversial political events and outcomes.


Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Experimental Research Section of the American Political Science Association 2015 

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