For practicing journalists in newsrooms and for student journalists learning to avoid misinformation, here’s an excellent resource: “Misinformation and Fact-Checking: Research Findings from Social Science” by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler.
It’s a research paper for the Media Policy Initiative of the New America Foundation; the link will bring you to a Columbia Journalism Review article about the report as well as a link to download a PDF copy of the report.
Don’t let the “research paper” title fool you. This 28-page document is readable (skimmable if you have to) and loaded with understandable recaps of research findings, pithy graphics and news media examples that deal with “the prevalence of misinformation in contemporary politics,” as the document summary states.
Below is a verbatim list from the document listing the social science findings detailed in the paper. When applicable, I’ve noted the chapter in parentheses from Overcoming Bias (OB) that complements or discusses the findings:
Summary of social science findings
- Information deficits: (OB Chapter 2: “Habits of Thought”) Factual information can change policy preferences, but the effect is not consistent. Information seems to be most effective in shaping preferences about government spending. One drawback to these studies is that they generally do not directly measure changes in misperceptions.
- Motivated reasoning: (OB Chapter 7: “Critical Decisions Before Deadline”) People’s evaluations of new information are shaped by their beliefs. Misperceptions seem to generally reflect sincere beliefs. Information that challenges these beliefs is generally unwelcome and can prompt a variety of compensatory responses. As a result, corrections are sometimes ineffective and can even backfire.
- Ad watches: Studies examining campaign ad watch stories reached conflicting conclusions about the effectiveness of these segments.
- Belief perseverance and continued influence: (OB Chapter 3: “Encountering the News”) Once a piece of information is encoded in memory, it can be very difficult to eliminate its effects on subsequent attitudes and beliefs.
- Sources matter: (OB Chapter 5: “Understanding Culture, Understanding Sources”) The source of a given statement can have a significant effect on how the claim is interpreted. People are more receptive to sources that share their party affiliation or values and those that provide unexpected information.
- Negations, affirmations, and fluency: (OB Chapter 8: “The Power of Words and Tone”) Attempts to correct false claims can backfire via two related mechanisms. First, repeating a false claim with a negation (e.g., “John is not a criminal”) leads people to more easily remember the core of the sentence (“John is a criminal”). Second, people may use the familiarity of a claim as a heuristic for its accuracy. If the correction makes a claim seem more familiar, the claim may be more likely to be seen as true.
- Identity and race: (OB Chapter 1: “Context, Culture and Cognition”) When information about race or social identity is salient, it can undermine the effectiveness of corrections about public figures from different racial or cultural backgrounds.
- Threats to control: When people feel a lack of control, they compensate with strategies that lead to greater acceptance of misperceptions.
- Visuals: (OB Chapter 6: “Training the Reporter’s Eye”) Graphics may be an effective way to present corrective information about quantitative variables. However, graphical representations of the accuracy of political statements were found to have no effect on factual knowledge.
Thanks to the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University, which currently is showcasing “Overcoming Bias: A Journalist’s Guide to Culture and Context” on its Media Diversity Forum website under the site’s “Diversity Articles/Reports” tab. As the website states, “The Forum on Media Diversity is designed to serve inclusiveness by seeking resources, supporting research, stimulating dialogue, sponsoring programs and sharing techniques.” The forum’s mission of serving inclusiveness is exactly what “Overcoming Bias” is about. So much good content is on the Forum website. Truly worth taking time to check out.