Tag Archives: Leon Festinger

The backfire effect, and how to leapfrog it

If you have evidence against something that will harm public health or waste money, just tell everybody and they’ll understand and stop it, right? Nope, humans don’t work that way. More likely you’ll provoke the backfire effect, reinforcing beliefs in the bad information that caused the problem in the first place. Here are some ways to jump over that effect to get at solutions to the problem.

Shankar Vedantam wrote in the Washington Post 15 Sep 2008 about The Power of Political Misinformation, illustrating with a couple of well-known examples of misinformation (you’ll recognize them), and continuing:

Nearly all these efforts rest on the assumption that good information is the antidote to misinformation.

But a series of new experiments show that misinformation can exercise a ghostly influence on people’s minds after it has been debunked — even among people who recognize it as misinformation.

Countering bad information directly just reinforces it.

Chris Mooney wrote more about why that is in Mother Jones 18 April 2011, The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science: Continue reading