Searching for the backfire effect: Measurement and design considerations

Briony Swire-Thompson, Joseph DeGutis, David Lazer
Journal of Applied Memory and Cognition
(in press)
May 14, 2020

Abstract

One of the most concerning notions for science communicators, fact-checkers, and advocates of truth, is the backfire effect; this is when a correction leads to an individual increasing their belief in the very misconception the correction is aiming to rectify. There is currently a debate in the literature as to whether backfire effects exist at all, as recent studies have failed to find the phenomenon, even under theoretically favorable conditions. In this review, we summarize the current state of the worldview and familiarity backfire effect literatures. We subsequently examine barriers to measuring the backfire phenomenon, discuss approaches to improving measurement and design, and conclude with recommendations for fact-checkers. We suggest that backfire effects are not a robust empirical phenomenon, and more reliable measures, powerful designs, and stronger links between experimental design and theory, could greatly help move the field ahead.

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