Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Correcting an Outrageous Comment

As someone fascinated by misperception -- when people think something is true when obviously it isn't -- I find this study to be a useful addition to the literature.  In the March issue of Political Behavior, the authors conducted experiments to test whether a politician's correction of having said something untrue had any real effect.

The answer?  This is important, so pay attention: 
Results indicate that corrections frequently fail to reduce misperceptions among the targeted ideological group. We also document several instances of a ‘‘backfire effect’’ in which corrections actually increase misperceptions among the group in question.

Whoa.

The authors created mock news stories about various topics and found conservatives (the focus of this study) use motivated reasoning to create even stronger misperceptions after a correction.  It's likely liberals will do the same, authors suggest, a tendency to interpret factual information to fit political predispositions.  The motivated of reasoning, in this case, is fitting the data to fit our pre-existing theories of how the world works.

Take this into the real world, outside the lab.  We often have politicians forced to "correct" themselves after saying something outrageous.  Turns out, even this correction may push people who want to believe something further into that belief.  Obama a Muslim?  Obama not American?  Suggest and correct, that's the way to fix an idea -- even an incorrect one -- in people's minds.  It's fascinating, and depressing, stuff.

I'd never thought of "corrections" in quite this way before.  There's a lot of room for further study, budding political communication scholars researchers.

1 comment:

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