This blog post, written by Dr. Terry Flynn and Tim Li, is based on a research paper by Ullrich K. H. Ecker, Ph.D., University of Western Australia; Joshua L. Hogan, University of Western Australia; and Stephan Lewandowsky, University of Bristol.  

Key Findings

  • Corrections that included an explicit reminder of the provided misinformation were more effective than those that didn’t.

Implications for Public Relations

Public relations professionals should consider including explicit reminders of the misinformation being corrected when refuting it with an alternative explanation. The repetition in the context of a correction reinforces that it is false and should be ignored in favour of the new information provided. Inadvertently enhancing the familiarity and believability of a false claim by repeating it remains a concern to be aware of, especially when unable to provide additional information or explanations.

Summary

One concern when crafting communications to address misinformation is whether the misinformation should be repeated. It is difficult to state that a claim is false without saying what the claim is. Prior research has shown that repeated exposure to false claims can lead to a strengthening of inaccurate beliefs due to increased familiarity with the claim. People often use familiarity as a cue for determining accuracy. As a result, it is often recommended to focus only on reinforcing accurate information.

This study actually found that providing an explicit reminder of the misinformation when correcting it was more effective than a correction alone. Ecker and colleagues presented participants with fictional news reports with and without corrections of misinformation. The corrections provided a factual account of how an event actually happened and varied in how much participants were reminded of the original misinformation. A subtle reminder alluded to the presence of incorrect information, while the explicit reminder identified the specific misinformation from earlier in the report. All of the corrections had a positive impact on belief accuracy, but the ones with the explicit reminder were most effective. These findings suggest that reminding people of misinformation enhances corrections that provide an alternative explanation. Reminders highlight and emphasize the inaccuracy of previous claims, supporting people in revising their beliefs.

Blog post compiled by Dr. Terry Flynn and Tim Li of McMaster University.

Citation

Ecker, Ullrich K. H., Hogan, Joshua L., & Lewandowsky, Stephan. (2017). Reminders and repetition of misinformation: Helping or hindering its retraction?. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 6(2), 185-192. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jarmac.2017.01.014

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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