New Research on Political Misperceptions

My co-author Jason Reifler and I have just posted a new manuscript (PDF) titled “Opening the Political Mind? The effects of self-affirmation and graphical information on factual misperceptions.” It’s one of the followups to our Political Behavior article (PDF) on resistance to corrective information. Here’s the abstract:

People often resist information that contradicts their preexisting beliefs. This disconfirmation bias is a particular problem in the context of political misperceptions, which are widespread and frequently difficult to correct. In this paper, we examine two different hypotheses about the prevalence of misinformation. First, people tend to resist unwelcome information because it is threatening to their worldview or self-concept. Drawing from social psychology research, we test whether affirming individuals’ self-worth and thereby buttressing them against this threat can make them more willing to acknowledge uncomfortable facts. Second, corrective information is often presented in an ineffective manner. We therefore also examine whether graphical corrections may be more effective than text at reducing counter-arguing by individuals inclined to resist counter-attitudinal information. Results from three experiments show that self-affirmation substantially reduces reported misperceptions among those most likely to hold them, suggesting that people cling to false beliefs in part because giving them up would threaten their sense of self. Graphical corrections are also found to successfully reduce incorrect beliefs among potentially resistant subjects and to perform better than an equivalent textual correction. However, contrary to previous research, affirmed subjects rarely differ from unaffirmed subjects in their willingness to accept new counter-attitudinal information.

Hope you’ll check it out — comments are appreciated!

[Cross-posted at]

Brendan Nyhan

Brendan Nyhan is an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College.