This summary is presented by the IPR Behavioral Insights Research Center

Key Findings

·       Presenting people with information in a visual format, like a graph, can be more effective for correcting misperceptions than presenting the same information in text form. It is easier to process large quantities of information and observe patterns or trends when it is presented in graph form.
·       Self-affirmations, like having people reflect on important personal values and their identity, helps them accept that their pre-existing beliefs may be wrong and reduces their resistance to correcting their misperceptions.

Implications for Public Relations

Some belief in misinformation results from lacking enough correct information about a topic. Public relations professionals can reduce misperceptions by using graphs to provide accurate information clearly and effectively. When people resist correcting their belief in false claims, affirmations that support their self-worth and identity can help them process information more accurately.

Public relations professional should use graphs or other data visualizations to provide information that can help correct misperceptions. Graphs present information in a more accessible way and misperceptions often exist due to not having enough accurate information to revise beliefs. Although graphs may not be applicable to every scenario, these findings suggest that any communication method that conveys sufficient accurate information accessibly can be effective.

When misinformation supports people’s pre-existing attitudes, they may be motivated to resist change, including attempts to correct them. Motivated reasoning against corrections is especially strong when the issue is an important part of someone’s worldview or identity. One strategy to overcome this resistance is to affirm people’s self-worth. When people feel more assured with their identity, they can become more willing to accept that they have been misled.

Summary

People hold onto false beliefs from misinformation if they aren’t made aware of the inaccuracies in their understanding of an issue. However, it is well-established that denying false claims is usually not sufficient for changing people’s beliefs. Nyhan and Reifler examined two strategies for correcting misperceptions; presenting sufficient factual evidence and reducing message resistance by affirming self-worth.

Without enough factual information, it is difficult to discard previously held beliefs. Addressing this information deficit by providing information in an easily understandable and persuasive way is a common approach to tackling misinformation. Graphs are an effective way to accomplish this because they provide a lot of information quickly and clearly, guiding people towards observations of patterns and trends. Since they focus on data and not rhetoric, they are often perceived as less biased.

Presenting accurate information is not always effective. When the misperceptions become a part of someone’s identity or greatly support it, attempts to correct them are met with resistance. People are motivated to argue against the information and dismiss it in order to reduce the psychological threat. One way to overcome this is through affirming self-worth. When people feel more secure about their own identity and values, they are less threatened by information that is uncomfortable because it opposes their views.

The authors of this study observed the effects of presenting graphs and affirmations on the belief in common political misperceptions. Compared to text with the same information, graphs led to more accurate beliefs. Although some participants still had misperceptions after seeing the graph, the findings demonstrate the potential of data visualizations for providing sufficient information for people to update their beliefs.

Misperceptions may persist because more information is needed to convince them to fully abandon false information or they are resisting change due to a perceived threat to their self-worth. When participants affirmed their identity by thinking about values that were important to them and a time they felt good about themselves, they decreased their belief in false claims, even when not presented with new information. This finding suggests that people may already have a sense that their beliefs are wrong, but are unwilling to accept that until they become more assured in their self-worth.

Citation

Nyhan, B., & Reifler, J. (2019). The roles of information deficits and identity threat in the prevalence of misperceptions. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion & Parties, 29(2), 222-244.
https://doi.org/10.1080/17457289.2018.1465061

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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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