Why do we keep believing lies after the truth is revealed.Researchers at The University of Western Australia – who have noticed various instances of misinformation, such as childhood vaccines cause autism , global warming is a fraud, or President Barack Obama was not born in the United States – say that rejecting information requires more cognitive effort than simply accept that the message is true .
Disinformation is especially likely to remain when it is in line with our pre-existing point of view , whether political, religious or social, according to the researchers. Because of this, personal ideology and worldviews can be especially difficult obstacles to overcome.
The report notes that efforts to retract misinformation are often counterproductive and, in fact, lead to the strengthening of an erroneous belief.
“This persistence of misinformation has very alarming implications for a democracy because people can base decisions on information that, at some level, they know is false,” said Lewandowsky.
“On an individual level, misinformation about health issues – for example, unwarranted fears about vaccination or undue reliance on alternative medicine – can do a lot of harm. At the corporate level, persistent misinformation about political issues can create considerable damage.
“And on a global scale, disinformation about climate change is currently slowing mitigation action.”
Although misinformation is difficult to correct, the study highlights several strategies that can help counteract the power of disinformation , including:
- Provide people with an alternative to fill the gap left by retracting false information;
- Focus on the facts you want to highlight, rather than the myths;
- Make sure the information you want people to get is simple and brief;
- Consider your audience and the beliefs they are likely to hold; and
- Strengthen your message through repetition.