The Role of Familiarity in Correcting Inaccurate Information

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Abstract

People frequently continue to use inaccurate information in their reasoning even after a credible retraction has been presented. This phenomenon is often referred to as the continued influence effect of misinformation. The repetition of the original misconception within a retraction could contribute to this phenomenon, as it could inadvertently make the “myth” more familiar—and familiar information is more likely to be accepted as true. From a dual-process perspective, familiarity-based acceptance of myths is most likely to occur in the absence of strategic memory processes. Thus, we examined factors known to affect whether strategic memory processes can be utilized: age, detail, and time. Participants rated their belief in various statements of unclear veracity, and facts were subsequently affirmed and myths were retracted. Participants then rerated their belief either immediately or after a delay. We compared groups of young and older participants, and we manipulated the amount of detail presented in the affirmative or corrective explanations, as well as the retention interval between encoding and a retrieval attempt. We found that (a) older adults over the age of 65 were worse at sustaining their postcorrection belief that myths were inaccurate, (b) a greater level of explanatory detail promoted more sustained belief change, and (c) fact affirmations promoted more sustained belief change in comparison with myth retractions over the course of 1 week (but not over 3 weeks), This supports the notion that familiarity is indeed a driver of continued influence effects.

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