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Correction of Evident Falsehood Requires Explicit Negation

Weil, Rebecca; Schul, Yaacov; Mayo, Ruth


Yaacov Schul

Ruth Mayo


The danger of receiving false information is omnipresent, and people might be highly vigilant against being influenced by falsehoods. Yet, as research on misinformation reveals, people are often biased by false information, even when they know the valid alternative. The question is why? The current research explores the relative encoding strength of two opposing alternatives involved in the correction of falsehood: the false concept and the valid concept. These encoding strengths may be critical for what people remember and how they act upon receiving false information. We compared two triggers for the correction of falsehood—a sentence consisting of clearly false information (e.g., “honey is made by butterflies”) and a sentence consisting of an explicit negation of this information (e.g., “honey is not made by butterflies”). The general pattern of results from five experiments demonstrates that the valid concept (e.g., “bees”) exhibits a weaker presence in memory than the false concept (e.g., “butterflies”) following the comprehension of evidently false information as compared to its explicit negation. Thus, the current research provides an answer to the riddle of the persistence of false information: False information is less likely to be mentally corrected if it is not explicitly negated. Even when people detect that a sentence is false, they tend to focus on the false concept rather than on the valid concept. These findings shed new light on extant research and offer fresh insights about the processing of false information and related phenomena such as the reliance on misinformation.

Journal Article Type Article
Print ISSN 0096-3445
Publisher American Psychological Association
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed

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