Wednesday, September 17, 2008

He Said, She Said, But What Did the Media Say?

RJ Note: Thought you'd enjoy the following article released by Duke University. Fire away!

News Tip: Experiments Show Media Fact-Checking Could Backfire

With the presidential candidates trading accusations on television and in the press, journalists’ attempts to correct misinformation is unlikely to sway public perceptions, according to a series of experiments by a Duke University political scientist.

“What we found is that corrections are ineffective for the group most likely to have the misperception,” said Brendan Nyhan, a Ph.D. candidate in Duke’s political science department. “Even worse, we found that those people may actually end up believing in the misperception more strongly after hearing a correction.”

“Right now there is a national debate about accuracy in political ads and what the media’s role is,” Nyhan said. “A lot of people want more aggressive fact-checking. But even if the media were putting fact-checks into every article, the public’s beliefs might not change very much. The problem is that the people most likely to have the misperception will often reject the correction.”

In the experiments, two groups of volunteers were given the same mock news articles with a potentially misleading claim by a public figure. For one group, the misleading claim was followed by a correction. Results show that people predisposed to believe the claim were just as likely to continue believing it after reading the correction. In several cases, people who were predisposed to believe the claim and received the correction believed the misinformation more than those who did not receive the correction.

Nyhan and co-author Jason Reifler of Georgia State University expect to publish the paper next year after it completes professional review. The Washington Post reported on their research Monday.

“In the paper, we suggest motivated reasoning as an explanation for these results. People often counter-argue information that contradicts their predispositions. That may be what is happening here,” Nyhan said.

Using the 2004 campaign as an example, he said people may also forget the source of discredited information.

“If you heard a Swift Boat ad, you might have initially dismissed it as coming from a group that doesn’t support John Kerry,” Nyhan said. “Eventually, you could forget where that information came from, but still remember their largely discredited claims that Kerry lied about his war record.”

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