Testing perceptual disfluency as a strategy to diminish illusory truth effects
Dowling, Erin J.
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People exhibit a persistent bias to believe information that is not true and to act on these beliefs. Contemporary findings illuminate the destructive costs of misinformation and false claims in the media; belief in misinformation has been flagged as a significant contributor to recent and ongoing querulous, polarizing events including the handling of the global pandemic, election outcomes, and events of racial and political persecution. One persistent obstacle to preventing belief in misinformation is the fluency with which previously encountered information is processed. Illusory truth effects refer to the robust finding that memory for information can be distorted (and is more likely to be remembered as true) due to mere exposure of false or misleading details; information that is re-encountered is processed with ease, and this fluency is misattributed to a statements’ veracity. The current study is an attempt to replicate earlier work conducted in the domain of illusory truth effects (i.e., Gilbert et al., 1993), and involves two experiments which test a novel disfluency manipulation of false statements (e.g., tHe RoBbEr HaD a GuN) in a mock criminal trial scenario. Currently, empirical research testing the potential influence of fluency disruptions on memory for false claims is limited, and findings concerning the efficacy of disfluency as a strategy to deter belief in a statement are inconclusive. Results from both experiments support the hypothesis that people perform poorly when asked to disregard information explicitly identified as false and will use this information in decisions of high consequence, despite receiving specific instruction to disregard it. Although this outcome was tempered slightly when a warning about the presence of false information was provided, participants who encoded false crime report details DiSfLuEnTlY were 9% more likely to misremember these details as true and assigned harsher character assessments and prison sentences to suspects as a result. In addition, multiple regression analysis finds that scoring high in right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) and/or social dominance orientation (SDO) significantly predicted the length of prison sentence that participants assigned to suspects and the proportion of false details remembered as true, particularly when the false details reported exacerbated the suspect’s crime.
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