Misinformation, Misconceptions, and Conspiracy Theories in Communication

Research on misinformation and dynamic changes to the accuracy of scientific information.

What impact does misinformation have on beliefs, and what are the best ways to combat it?

Misinformation has been a dominant theme in our society in the last decade. We are interested in how scientific misinformation is revised and the psychological dynamic underlying conspiracy beliefs.

Selected Findings:

Misinformation is easy to introduce but hard to correct. Now we also know how much harder.

In an analysis of all the available data on the impact of misinformation in news programs, as well as the efforts to correct it, we found that misinformation works better than the efforts to undo it. The data reveal that misinformation is almost always accepted as fact — a staggering 99.6% of the time — whereas attempts to correct it succeed in only 83% of cases. That leaves roughly 17% of the population still believing in misinformation, even when shown evidence to the contrary.

To correct misinformation, the correction must be detailed.

Our research has found that detailed corrections, often seen as potentially effective, have less impact than succinct ones. The reason appears to be that the detailed ones remind audiences of the misinformation itself, which only serves to reinforce its impact.

Trusting in science can make people susceptible to misinformation.

Instilling trust in science is touted as a means to combat misinformation and conspiracy theories. However, misinformation often uses the language and style of real science to make a counterfactual case. Ironically, trust in science makes people susceptible to pseudoscience. Fortunately, we also found that inducing a critical evaluation mindset reduces the impact of all misinformation.

Conspiracy Belief Book

Creating Conspiracy Beliefs: How our Thoughts are Shaped
Cambridge University Press, Dec. 2021
Co-authored by Dolores Albarracín, Julia Albarracín, Sally Chan, and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the book proposes a new theory about the formation of conspiracy beliefs.