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The Prevalence of Backfire Effects After the Correction of Misinformation

A cartoon rendering of the 'backfire effect.'

Partially supported by a NULab Seedling Grant.

A backfire effect is when a person reports believing even more in misinformation after a correction has been presented. In other words, instead of belief decreasing as intended, the person strengthens their belief in the very misconception the correction is hoping to rectify.

Currently, two backfire effects have gained popularity in the literature, the worldview backfire effect, and the familiarity backfire effect. These both purport to increase belief after a correction, but from different psychological mechanisms. The worldview backfire effect is said to ensue when a person is motivated to defend their worldview because a correction challenges a person’s belief system. On the other hand, a familiarity backfire effect is presumed to occur when misinformation is repeated within the retraction.

Although the backfire effect has gained popularity in the literature (and popular culture), recent failures to replicate at the group level have called its existence into question. This study aims to explore (1) how frequent the backfire effect really is, (2) under what circumstances the backfire effect is more likely to occur, and (3) what are the psychological mechanisms underlying the phenomenon. This study will consist of two parts: a pilot study to select the appropriate stimuli, and the main experiment to investigate the aims above.

Principal Investigator
Briony Swire-Thompson, Postdoctoral Researcher, Network Science Institute

Publications and Conferences

Briony Swire-Thompson, Joseph DeGutis, David Lazer. “Searching for the Backfire Effect: Measurement and Design Considerations.” PsyArXiv. May 15, 2020.

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