The endorsement of misconceptions, unlike ignorance, may be deep-rooted (Hammer, 1996) and
can be challenging to correct (Walter & Murphy, 2018). These erroneous beliefs are prevalent in
a variety of areas, including several health domains (e.g., vaccinations; complementary and
alternative medicine; diet and exercise; and mental health) and may lead to harmful
consequences. Unfortunately, efforts to reduce misconceptions may, in some circumstances,
result in backfire effects, whereby incorrect information is misremembered as fact
(Lewandowsky et al., 2012). This study aimed to examine the effects of myth debunking posters
formatted based upon an actual flu vaccination campaign (CDC, n.d.) and applied to multiple
health-related domains. Moreover, a potential backfire effect stemming from presentation format
was investigated. Using a 3 (poster condition) x 2 (time of assessment) between subject factorial
experimental design, 218 participants completed one of six conditions: (a) Myths and Facts -
immediate, (b) Facts Only - immediate, (c) Control - immediate, (d) Myths and Facts - delay, (e)
Facts Only - delay, and (f) Control - delay. There was a significant and large main effect for
poster condition on overall accurate knowledge, as well as for each targeted domain, in which
those in the Myths and Facts and Facts Only conditions accurately identified significantly more
information than the Control Condition. No backfire effect for poster format nor illusion of truth
effect was detected. Behavioral intentions were less obvious and revealed a more mixed pattern.
Overall, the present data suggests that the format used to correct misinformation may be less
important than the act of refuting. Future research will benefit from increasing delay periods,
increasing variability in populations of myth debunking, expanding response format when
measuring misconceptions, and translating increased knowledge to behavioral intentions (and
A Plan B Research Project submitted to the faculty of the University of Minnesota by Erika Damsgard in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts, May 2020. Advisor: Rick LaCaille.
An Experimental Examination of Misconception Corrections Across Health Domains and Potential Backfire Effect.
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