Why People Believe Misinformation, Even After It's Corrected


He thinks, however, that it's possible that simply repeating the test, and correcting the answers, over and over will gradually condition the brain to process and retrieve information more efficiently. Maybe, with practice, we can learn how to toss out the bad stuff, and he hopes teachers will take note.

But these days the world is a classroom. Through social media, the Internet, email, and all those technologies that link us together tighter than ever before, we are vulnerable to one of the strongest memory enhancers: repetition.

"People are exposed (to misinformation) over and over again, so it's no wonder that people come to believe it," Butler said. "When they do, if they believe it very strongly, our study shows it's very easy to correct this in the short term. But as they go on about their lives, over time, they forget it. They remember the misinformation."

The Duke study is limited by the fact that the questions were relatively benign. If the questions were highly emotional, as is so often the case these days on subjects ranging from global climate change to presidential elections, the results might be quite different.

"People want to believe or disbelieve certain things," Butler said. "Our research assumes people are open to correction. People who don't want to believe in another candidate, for example, may not be open to even considering that the new information is correct."

So let's stick to science, not politics.

What is stored in a camel's hump? Water? Wrong. And you probably really believed that. Check back next week.

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