In today’s information-based society, people are continuously presented with misinformation that needs to be corrected. It is extremely important that we know when corrections are effective, and whether there are circumstances under which they are likely to be ineffective or even make matters worse. The backfire effect is when a correction leads to an individual increasing their belief in the very misconception the correction is aiming to rectify. I will discuss the current state of backfire effect literature, the likelihood that the backfire effect can be attributed to measurement error, and whether certain item attributes make backfire effects more likely to be elicited. 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 help move the field ahead.
Briony Swire-Thompson is a Senior Research Scientist in the Lazer Lab, and fellow at Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science. Her research investigates what drives belief in inaccurate information, why certain individuals are predisposed to refrain from belief change even in the face of good corrective evidence, and how corrections can be designed to maximize impact. Prior to joining Professor Lazer’s Lab, she was a doctoral student at the University of Western Australia’s Cognitive Science Laboratories. Her doctoral thesis The Role of Memory and Ideological Biases in the Correction of Misinformation was awarded the Dean’s List Honorable Mention in recognition of an outstanding thesis in 2017. She was additionally a Fulbright scholar at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Political Experiments Research Laboratory, where she investigated the impact of perceived source credibility on belief change and voting intentions. She is currently interested in the processing of misinformation in older adult populations.