Correcting misinformation can backfire.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued a flier to combat myths about the flu vaccine. It recited various commonly held views and labeled them either “true” or “false.” Among those identified as false were statements such as “The side effects are worse than the flu” and “Only older people need flu vaccine.”

When University of Michigan social psychologist Norbert Schwarz had volunteers read the CDC flier, however, he found that within 30 minutes, older people misremembered 28 percent of the false statements as true. Three days later, they remembered 40 percent of the myths as factual.

Oh, and it only gets worse; more after the jump.

Here’s the kicker: “Most troubling was that people of all ages now felt that the source of their false beliefs was the respected CDC.”

So not only did the fact sheets fail to correct the misinformation and myths people believed about influenza vaccination, they actual solidified them–and gave them the CDC’s stamp of approval. Great…

The experiments do not show that denials are completely useless; if that were true, everyone would believe the myths. But the mind’s bias does affect many people, especially those who want to believe the myth for their own reasons, or those who are only peripherally interested and are less likely to invest the time and effort needed to firmly grasp the facts.

The research also highlights the disturbing reality that once an idea has been implanted in people’s minds, it can be difficult to dislodge. Denials inherently require repeating the bad information, which may be one reason they can paradoxically reinforce it.

Obviously, this has implications for correcting these myths. The article suggests that, rather than repeat them (as the CDC “true and false” pamphlet does, for example), one should just rephrase the statement, eliminating the false portion altogether so as to not reinforce it further (since repetition, even to debunk it, reaffirms the false statement). Ignoring it also makes things worse, as the story noted that other research “…found that when accusations or assertions are met with silence, they are more likely to feel true.”

Of course, all this is easier said than done–and not everyone wants to “bust” these sorts of myths. Indeed, politicians and others interested in getting their (maybe not wholly correct) message out there can take (and have taken) advantage of this phenomenon–get their mantra out there first, and it’s reinforced even when an opponent tries to correct it.

Comments

  1. #1 coturnix
    September 6, 2007

    “Don’t think of an elephant”. That is the point of framing.

  2. #2 Warren
    September 6, 2007

    The side effects are worse than the flu

    Poor writing. In attempting to dumb things down to George W. Bush levels, the CDC completely missed the value of immediate falsification:

    It is not true that the side-effects of the vaccine are worse than having the flu.

    It’s impossible to skim a sentence like that and fail to get the message, and retention will be higher as well.

  3. #3 Ahcuah
    September 6, 2007

    Another possibility is simply that 40% of the population are morons and they won’t absorb facts regardless of how the facts are presented.

  4. #4 Rosie Redfield
    September 6, 2007

    The Post article doesn’t provide a link or citation for the original research paper, just generic links to the CDC and the Univ. of Michigan. Does anyone have the reference for the paper? (I hope this isn’t just science by press release.)

  5. #5 HCN
    September 6, 2007

    I found this:
    http://www.acrwebsite.org/topic.asp?artid=250

    A click on the webpage referenced at the CDC brought up this “CDC is no longer maintaining a page on public health hoaxes and rumors. Please contact us about specific public health concerns.”

  6. #6 Tara C. Smith
    September 6, 2007

    One of them was here:

    Advances in Experimental Social Psychology
    Volume 39, 2007, Pages 127-161

    There are a few refs in that one to other papers that have been submitted, but no journal references yet.

  7. #7 Kausik Datta
    September 6, 2007

    CDC, for some strange reason, appears to be strangely lax and reluctant to correct the occasional mistakes on its web pages. Earlier this year, I noticed some errors and incomplete information on its webpages on a fungal pathogen that I work on. I contacted them, and told them that they should update that page. The person who communicated with me seemed initially strangely adversarial, then basically said that the information was for lay persons only (making it seem that that made it acceptable to have wrong information there), and then suddenly thanked me and broke off. That was it.

    Recently, when someone was arguing a lot citing CDC statistics in Tara’s HIV denial thread, this incident jumped to my mind!! I wonder if CDC of late is getting sloppy about stuff…

  8. #8 Seth Manapio
    September 6, 2007

    Q: Will the flu vaccine make me sick?
    A: No. The flu vaccine will not make you sick.
    Q: Is the flu vaccine safe?
    A: Yes. If you are like most people, you will not experience any problems with the flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is safe.
    Q: Isn’t the flu vaccine just for old people?
    A: No. If you work in public, you should get vaccinate. Anyone can catch the flu, so the flu vaccine is for everyone.

    You can’t beat the FAQ.

  9. #9 Guillaume Theoret
    September 6, 2007

    It seems to me that if your goal is retention, mixing trues and falses in with each other is a really bad way to go about it.

    Shouldn’t they have had a list of “Common Myths” where everything was false? That would’ve helped people remember oh yeah I read it on that CDC list of not-true things so it mustn’t be true.

  10. #10 derek
    September 7, 2007

    Seth, I think framing the false assertion as a question doesn’t help. For instance, it’s a common technique of dishonest journalists who want to draw in readers with a sensational claim in a deniable way: “Hey, we only asked WILL YOUR CELLPHONE GIVE YOU CANCER? We didn’t say it would!”

    But most readers would remember that the article said their cellphone would give them cancer.

  11. #11 Ky Sanderson
    September 7, 2007

    What a joke. A shameless effort to sell flu vaccines.

    Q: Is the flu vaccine necessary?
    A: No
    Q: Is the flu so bad?
    A: Nah, you get sick for a couple of days, rest, take some Nyquil, have some chicken soup, drink orange juice, you’ll be fine.

  12. #12 trrll
    September 7, 2007

    Nah, you get sick for a couple of days, rest, take some Nyquil, have some chicken soup, drink orange juice, you’ll be fine.

    Except that sometimes, you die.

    What you are describing is an ordinary cold. Real influenza is considerably more severe and last longer, although it is normally survivable if you are in good health. There have, however, been exceptions. The “Spanish Flu” killed young, healthy people by the millions.

  13. #13 Chris Noble
    September 7, 2007

    Q. Is influenza another name for the common cold?
    A. No.

  14. #14 Seth Manapio
    September 7, 2007

    “Seth, I think framing the false assertion as a question doesn’t help.”

    ————-

    I think you are wrong about that, but of course we would need to do some research to be sure.

    However, your analogy is not a good one. In the article you describe, there is no clear, unambiguous answer given. If you ask a question and leave it open, that is not the same as asking a question and giving a very solid answer.

    My hypothesis is that the FAQ will help. People already have these questions (hence the need for an FAQ in the first place) and giving a clear answer and the true statement is a lot different than saying “FALSE”. For example:

    1. The flu vacinne makes you more ill than the flu.
    FALSE.

    2. Will the flu vaccine make me sick? No. The flu vaccine will not make you sick.

    These are very different pieces of communication. The second doesn’t contain the false claim at all, not even in the question.

  15. #15 Luna_the_cat
    September 7, 2007

    Actually, they need to frame the mythbusting statements as positives, and just leave out the negatives. Like:

    “The side effects from the flu vaccine are milder than the symptoms you get from having the flu as an illness.”

    …and leave it at that.

    From dealing with small children, you DON’T say “don’t spill what’s in your juice cup!” — because their mind is on tipping the cup and spilling, and sure enough, that generally translates to them tipping the cup and spilling. Instead you say “keep the juice in the cup; keep the cup straight up and down!” — then, this is what is in their mind. The principle is basically the same: frame as a positive, the thing that you actually want the people to remember.

    And, ky…thousands of people die every year from flu and its subsequent respiratory tract complications. Thousands every year. DIE. My elderly mother has come very close to dying twice, ending up in hospital on oxygen. How on earth is this not something which should have a vaccine, if possible?

  16. #16 Kausik Datta
    September 7, 2007

    Luna, has any anti-vax-er ever made any sense whatsoever? Ever? Have you ever seen them put in a cogent argument backed by scientific evidence? They believe that the world is out to get them… yet, they would gladly enjoy the benefits of herd immunity!!

  17. #17 Ky Sanderson
    September 7, 2007

    I’ve never taken a flu shot, and never will. Total waste of time.

  18. #18 cooler
    September 8, 2007

    Mercury is good for you, taking 100x the EPA’s safe amount will make you jolly. Dont worry the IOM cooked a few studies so drink some more mercury for even more fun.

    A virus called hiv thats in 1 of a thousand cells doesnt kill any animal injected where damage in viruses occurs before antibodies not 10 years later, lets get that hiv vaccine SOON, so we’ll all test positive!

    Forget about mycoplasma incognitus, a microbe that kills every animal injected…….lets turn Koch’s postulates upside down!

    See hiv fact or fraud
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6830231400057553023

    Read http://www.projectdaylily.com/ to find out about the mycoplasma biowarfare program, THATS WHY YOU HAVENT HEARD OF IT, BECAUSE IT’S CLASSIFIED SON!

  19. #19 HCN
    September 8, 2007

    Ky,

    So should I skip the influenza vaccine for my child with a severe genetic cardiac disorder?

    Oh, and why haven’t you answered my question on the measles thread?

    I’m only asking because you seem to be presenting yourself as an authority on the subject.

  20. #20 Seth Manapio
    September 8, 2007

    “Forget about mycoplasma incognitus, a microbe that kills every animal injected…….lets turn Koch’s postulates upside down!”

    ————–

    Again, cooler knows perfectly well that mycoplasma research is ongoing. Weirdly, he feels the need to say something he knows isn’t true, thats also off topic. He reminds me of racter.

    Here’s an interesting point though… he’s “in on it.” He knows stuff the rest of us don’t. Not through dilligence and hard work, the way that scientists do it, but through being clever enough to pick the right web sites to read uncritically.

    Good job, cooler. You’ve become a rethinker.

  21. #21 jspreen
    September 8, 2007

    .. has any anti-vax-er ever made any sense whatsoever?< Ever?

    But it’s the other way around! Pro-vax makes no sense at all once you’ve listened to a well informed anti-vax-er. The problem is just that pro-vax-ers are so totaly brain-washed that they simply cannot listen to another story anymore.

    Have you ever seen them put in a cogent argument ….
    You must Learn how to listen to another side of a story and, while you listen, replace “seen” by “heard”. That will help to set you on your way. Or, if you insist on seeing arguments with your eyes, I propose you start where it all began: with the fraud Louis Pasteur or, as I propose we should call the man, Lou Imposteur.

    (If you who are struck with absolute narrow mindedness each time you see a link with whale.to in it, I can propose another link to the same book you can copy and paste: members.iinet.net.au/~dminoz/bechamp/books/dream.htm

    … backed by scientific evidence?

    …Scientific evidence… Could somebody please recall the definition of the term “scientific evidence”, please? I see the words smeared all over those “science” blogs but I must have missed something somewhere. Since when “Scientific evidence” has definitely replaced a thing people used call “common sense”, a couple of centuries ago it seems, when I went to school and university? Did I miss a meeting somewhere?

  22. #22 jspreen
    September 8, 2007

    The “Spanish Flu” killed young, healthy people by the millions.

    Yeah, American soldiers who got vaccined just before…

    It’s a fucking joke, the “Spanish Flu” is linked today to the H1N1 virus. When did the epidemic occur? End 1918, begin 1919. What happened just before? WWI.

    What did you say, my good ol’ Seth? There cannot possibly be a relation between sicknes and war? Well, you may be right. Today everybody knows that the soldiers who went over to a WWI front in say Northern France, just went there to party in the mud. Best time of their life they had there.

  23. #23 HCN
    September 8, 2007

    jspreen: “Yeah, American soldiers who got vaccined just before…”

    Vaccinated with what? Please provide some documentation.

  24. #24 Seth Manapio
    September 8, 2007

    “Pro-vax makes no sense at all once you’ve listened to a well informed anti-vax-er.”

    ———–

    Well informed, in this case, meaning “completely delusional.” Sure, if you deny that humans have an adaptive immune system at all vaccine just doesn’t make any damn sense!

    Let’s see… someone will protest that babies, women, teenagers, old people, and a huge number of people who weren’t soldiers also got sick and died, probably in greater numbers than soldiers. And on a guess, we didn’t even have a flu vaccine in 1919 anyway. And spreen will say something totally stupid about how, first, we’re all dummies, and second, we should read Bechamp (whose theories jspreen can’t believe anyway, if he really follows new medicine) and then he’ll talk about how the whole world was depressed about WW1 and thats the reason they all got the flu.

    What a total shitbag.

  25. #25 jspreen
    September 8, 2007

    jspreen: “Yeah, American soldiers who got vaccined just before…”

    Vaccinated with what? Please provide some documentation.

    Posted by: HCN | September 8, 2007 1:50 PM

    http://articlesofhealth.blogspot.com/2007/04/history-of-virology-bacteriology.html

    You: Yes, but is it science?
    Me: No, it’s history

  26. #26 jspreen
    September 8, 2007

    And spreen will say something totally stupid about how, first, we’re all dummies,

    Right you are, ol’ boy. But you must understand that if I say: “We’re all dummies”, I include myself. Of course.

    and second, we should read Bechamp

    Yes, we definitely should.

    (whose theories jspreen can’t believe anyway, if he really follows new medicine)

    Why do you write that, amigo? On the contrary, Bechamp’s approach is totally compatible with R.G. Hamer’s New Medicine. Maybe you’ll understand, one day. But for sure, that day won’t be tommorrow.

    and then he’ll talk about how the whole world was depressed about WW1 and thats the reason they all got the flu.

    No, I wouldn’t put it like that. Sometimes I play with that thought but even if there may be something in it, I don’t think it’s that simple. At all.

  27. #27 Seth Manapio
    September 8, 2007

    “Maybe you’ll understand, one day.”

    ————-

    Spreen, I understand now… you are utterly unaware of the contents of your belief system. You lock onto “bacteria are the result of disease” in Hamer and Bechamp and think they are the same, but in reality, the two say completely incompatible things. This is one of the many reasons I find you such a contemptible human being. Not only are you a murderous thug and a mindless sycophant, you are an intellectually lazy murderous thug and mindless sycophant.

  28. #28 HCN
    September 8, 2007

    No, I would say “It’s a blog, with a bunch of unreferenced statements… How about some real documentation.”

    It also did not answer my question: What was the vaccine? What was it for?

    Oh, and this is where you can find real history of medicine:
    http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/

  29. #29 murison
    September 9, 2007

    Ahcuah: “Another possibility is simply that 40% of the population are morons and they won’t absorb facts regardless of how the facts are presented.”

    Not just a possibility. One can argue the specific numbers (30%? 50%?), but the unfortunate fact remains that there is a consistent, sizeable percentage of the population that is both impervious to and incapable of rational thinking of even the simplest kind. “Idiocracy”, anyone?

  30. #30 HCN
    September 9, 2007

    Seth, try to relax! It is much less aggravating to picture Jan Spreen as amusing, silly and completely bonkers. Yes, he is a conteptible human being… as are others who willingly allow fellow human beings to suffer needlessly. But really, how many people does he sway to ignore reality? If you read some of the threads on this blog you will see he is constantly mocked, which he so rightly deserves.

    You need to look at participation in online debates as a form of entertainment, not as a real driving force of reality. That you need to reserve for your local legislative bodies (ie., if a county councilmember decides to delete your county health department from the public budget and stop all inspections of restaurants, or even monitoring of diseases because he/she fell into the Bechamp cult… then you should jump into action).

    There is a reason why I place internet access in the “entertainment” catagory in Quicken.

    And I still want to know what vaccine caused the 1918 influenza pandemic. That would be very interesting.

  31. #31 jspreen
    September 9, 2007

    It also did not answer my question: What was the vaccine? What was it for?

    If you had read my link, you would have known which vaccine(s) I referred to. Info or intox? I don’t know. The only thing I know for sure is that the H1N1 version is BS.

    I agree with your classification of the Internet in the entertainment category. But my oh my, you guys totally lack the most elementary sense of humor.

    you will see he is constantly mocked,
    It’s like a drug, you know. I mean, beeing mocked by the thoroughly brainwashed self-righteous “scientific standard” defenders of Tara’s Aetiology blog, man, it’s a treat, I swear it is.

  32. #32 Seth Manapio
    September 9, 2007

    “It is much less aggravating to picture Jan Spreen as amusing, silly and completely bonkers. ”

    —————

    jspreen plays Renfield to Hamer’s Dracula.

    I tend not to find ignorance and insanity amusing, I guess, at least not after I read some of the stories of the people Hamer has killed or attempted to kill. Dracula stops being funny when he actually starts killing people and you realize he is serious about this shit.

    Which is where we are with spreen. I know and you know that he is, in the grand scheme of things, completely irrellevant. But the guy just disgusts me.

    Jsreen is like cat sick on a tile floor. I know he isn’t doing any damage, but he’s still gross.

  33. #33 DT
    September 9, 2007

    Spreen’s fount of knowledge: Articles of Health.

    Articles of Health are the writings of Robert O. Young D.Sc., Ph.D., based upon his theory that the human organism is alkaline by design and acidic by function. He suggests that there is only one sickness and one disease which is caused by an over acidification of the blood and then tissues due to an inverted way of living, eating and thinking.

  34. #34 jspreen
    September 9, 2007

    after I read some of the stories of the people Hamer has killed or attempted to kill.

    Hi hi hi…. Good ol’ Seth reading tabloid stories.

    Hey Seth, now we got to know each other so well… I think I know for pretty sure that to you Ben Laden is the one behind 9/11. Am I wrong?

  35. #35 Seth Manapio
    September 9, 2007

    “Hi hi hi…. Good ol’ Seth reading tabloid stories.”

    —————

    Whatever helps you sleep at night. You and I both know that you are a liar and a ghoul. But if it helps you stave off your guilt by pretending that you are serving some kind of greater good, whatever.

  36. #36 HCN
    September 9, 2007

    No, Jan… I did not want to read your link. I glanced at it, noticed is was some long drawn out blog post with no real references.

    I want YOU, Jan Spreen, to answer the question:

    What was the vaccine for?

    Where is the actual real documention to show that it caused the pandemic?

  37. #37 The Science Pundit
    September 9, 2007

    This thread was quite funny until I realized that jspreen wasn’t a parody.

  38. #38 jspreen
    September 9, 2007

    Where is the actual real documention to show that it caused the pandemic?

    What do I know? There is no actual real documentation that definitely proofs what caused the pandemic, whichever way you look at the thing.
    And, if you ask me, one of the most ridiculous “documentations” somebody may show me is the one about H1N1. THAT is pure nonsense. As if, about a century after the facts, somebody just dug up some corpses and identified viruses as if they were spare-parts of an Oldsmobile.
    Hi, hi, hi… They can’t even identify a viruse roaming around today. HIV, H5N1 … what a joke!

    You know, you wrote something like you will see he is constantly mocked referring to me, but I tell you the pleasure is on my side.

  39. #39 Seth Manapio
    September 9, 2007

    And, if you ask me, one of the most ridiculous “documentations” somebody may show me is the one about H1N1

    ———–

    Not that there would be any point. First off, jspreen cannot be swayed by physical evidence or argument, and second, he doesn’t believe that any virus causes any disease at all, ever. So no matter what documentation he sees, his little delusional bubble is safe.

    What a miserable waste of a human mind.

    Thankfully, most people think differently. If they didn’t, Tara’s post about measles would be a daily occurance, with lots of “dozens dead” thrown in for fun.

    The thing is, if we look at the history of epidemics in Europe, there are towns that still have lower populations today than they did at the onset of the plague. So a lack of medical knowledge on the part of the general public is a very bad thing.

  40. #40 HCN
    September 10, 2007

    Science Pundit wrote: “This thread was quite funny until I realized that jspreen wasn’t a parody.”

    Being a decade long veteran of Usenet, jspreen is just a minor league loon… there are even more loony ones out there!

  41. #41 jspreen
    September 10, 2007

    Being a decade long veteran of Usenet, jspreen is just a minor league loon

    I’ve not been on Usenet for a decade at all so I think you got mixed up somewhere before you got to the end of your phrase, but this minor grammatical construction error set a part, I’m flabbergasted by the force of your argumentation.

    Besides that, I’m very surprised you didn’t jump on my What do I know?. It’s quite an unsual confession today, isn’t it? To be honest, I think we all know nothing at all when it comes to it, which is why I find those extraordinary agressive exchanges so amusing. Ever read something written by Charles Fort? I love it!

  42. #42 jspreen
    September 10, 2007

    Not only are you a murderous thug and a mindless sycophant, you are an intellectually lazy murderous thug and mindless sycophant.

    The day I decide to go on stage doing some stand-up comedy ranting against 21st century medicine, your very rich vocabulary will certainly come in handy.

  43. #43 HCN
    September 10, 2007

    Oooh, I am being shattered by an argument from the grammar police!

    Any yes, you do seem to have a set comedy routine… but remember: we are not laughing with you… we are laughing at you.

  44. #44 jspreen
    September 12, 2007

    but remember: we are not laughing with you… we are laughing at you.

    Laughing with, laughing about, laughing at… What difference does it make? I don’t mind the role of the clown, even better, I want it.
    But the question is, who can tell the difference between funny and rediculous? Who can tell who’s right and who’s wrong? You can neither. But you guys don’t even doubt. To me that is rediculous.

  45. #45 Seth Manapio
    September 12, 2007

    “But you guys don’t even doubt.”

    ——————-

    This from a guy who actually doesn’t know that his two big medical heroes hold completely conflicting views about the role of bacteria in disease. If you add Duesberg, its three completely contradictory models.

    Step on of doubting: have some fucking clue what claims are being made.

  46. #46 jspreen
    September 13, 2007

    If you add Duesberg, its three completely contradictory models.

    Contradictory? Not at all. Complementary, that’s what they are. Maybe you’re lucky and will get it, one day.

    If not, you may say to yourself: If I can’t get away from the idea that Antoine Bechamp, Peter Duesberg and Ryke Geerd Hamer propose contradictory models, each model brilliantly shows that the currently admitted HIV=Aids formula can not possibly be anything else than pure nonsense.

    How about that, Seth? That sure makes your day, doesn’t it?

  47. #47 Hank Roberts
    May 20, 2008

    I just came back to thank you again for this post — and to ask if anyone has further pointers to similar research or discussion of better ways to present ideas so they are remembered and present corrections so errors are refuted in a memorable way.

  48. #48 cet
    March 26, 2009

    thanks. by Brooklyn

Current ye@r *