Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tell Me Sweet Little Lies

It appears that printing the entire text of a myth, and then telling you sometime later that it is false, is a crap way of dispelling myths. The information has already been repeated, and is now in your mind. The "false" tag doesn't stay attached to the text.

It also turns out that the above is the regular, government approved, way of dispelling myths. This newspaper article in the Philadelphia Inquirer tells us the (probably obvious) outcome of this process.

People believe all kinds of crap.

The conventional response to myths and urban legends is to counter bad information with accurate information. But the new psychological studies show that denials and clarifications, for all their intuitive appeal, can paradoxically contribute to the resiliency of popular myths.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued a flyer to combat myths about the flu vaccine. It recited various commonly held views, and labeled them "true" or "false." Among those identified as false were statements such as "the side effects are worse than the flu" and "only older people need flu vaccine."

When University of Michigan social psychologist Norbert Schwarz had volunteers read the CDC flyer, however, he found that, within 30 minutes, older people misremembered 28 percent of the false statements as true. Three days later, they remembered 40 percent of the myths as factual.

I'm not surprised.

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