So, what can be done to fight false beliefs, if corrections don’t work and if providing data on funding sources doesn’t even provoke skepticism?
Presenting the new information as part of a coherent story seems to help, by filling the gap in explanation that arises from simply negating a statement. In the warehouse fire example, for instance, telling people that a truckers’ strike prevented the delivery of the paints and gas cylinders — thereby rendering it impossible for those substances to have started the fire — helps readers revise their original, incorrect view. The added information about the strike not only provides an explanation for why the initial story was wrong, but also offers a memorable event to prompt recall of what really happened.
In cases involving political misinformation, providing new data that is congruent with someone’s preexisting beliefs also helps: one study found that Republicans who were disinclined to believe the scientific consensus on climate change were more likely to accept the idea if it was presented in the context of a growth opportunity in the nuclear energy industry.
Similarly, giving correct information while making people feel good about themselves through self-affirmation also helps them cope with the new info that would otherwise threaten their identity: in one study, such ego-stroking — like having people recall a time that they felt good about themselves for acting in accordance with their values — reduced the influence of people’s political ideology on their acceptance of a report that was critical of U.S. foreign policy.
It’s also helpful to simply spending more time debunking myths in detail: this doesn’t backfire like brief debunking does. A study found that a psychology course aimed at correcting misconceptions about the field was more successful when it directly refuted myths in depth than when it simply presented accurate information, without addressing common untruths.
Finally, presenting correct information coherently in the simplest way that is accurate, strengthening the message through repetition and, if possible, warning people that misinformation is about to be presented can help prevent it from sticking, though it may be hard to maintain constant vigilance over one’s data diet.