Continued Influence Effect

What is it?

The "Continued Influence Effect" refers to the phenomenon where misinformation continues to affect people's thinking and decision-making, even after it has been corrected. Key features include the persistence of misinformation in memory, resistance to correction, and its ongoing impact on decision-making. This effect is stronger for misinformation that is repeated or emotionally charged and is partly due to people's preference for coherent narratives. Misinformation that forms a complete story tends to be more appealing and memorable than fragmented or less detailed corrections. The continued influence effect is significant across various fields, highlighting the challenges in changing beliefs and the importance of initially providing accurate information.

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Video by Sprouts Learning Co. | Used under Creative Commons license

How it relates to disinformation?

Persistence of Disinformation: Once disinformation is released and consumed, it tends to have a lasting impact on people's beliefs and attitudes, even after being debunked. The Continued Influence Effect means that the initial false information continues to shape thinking and decision-making.

Challenges in Correcting False Beliefs: Correcting disinformation is difficult because of the Continued Influence Effect. Even when presented with factual, accurate information, people may continue to rely on the initial false information they received. This resistance to correction can be due to the coherence and emotional appeal of the disinformation, which often makes it more memorable and persuasive than dry, factual corrections.

Impact on Public Discourse and Policy: In the context of social and political issues, disinformation that has been initially absorbed by the public can continue to influence public opinion and policy decisions. This is problematic as it can lead to policies based on false premises or public resistance to informed policy changes.

Propagation Through Social Media: Social media amplifies the Continued Influence Effect by rapidly spreading disinformation. Once such information goes viral, correcting it becomes increasingly difficult, as the original misinformation often reaches more people and is more engaging than subsequent corrections.

Creation of Echo Chambers: The effect contributes to the formation of echo chambers where people are exposed mainly to information that aligns with their existing beliefs. Within these chambers, disinformation persists and continues to influence, even in the face of corrections or contradictory evidence.

What can I do about Continued Influence Effect?

Dealing with the continued influence effect, especially in the context of disinformation, requires a multifaceted approach. Here are some strategies that can be effective:

  1. Rapid Response to Misinformation: Quick and clear corrections are crucial. As soon as misinformation is identified, it's important to counter it with factual information. The faster the response, the less time the misinformation has to take root.
  2. Use of Credible Sources: Ensure that the corrections come from sources that are widely perceived as credible and authoritative. People are more likely to accept corrections from trusted sources.
  3. Reframing the Narrative: Instead of just negating the false information, provide an alternative narrative that is coherent and appealing. People are more likely to remember and accept information that forms a complete, logical story.
  4. Highlighting the Correction: Make the corrected information as prominent as the misinformation. This might include using similar channels for dissemination and ensuring that the correction is easily accessible and widely distributed.
  5. Repetition of Correct Information: Just as repetition strengthens misinformation, repeatedly exposing people to correct information can help to reinforce it. However, this should be done carefully to avoid backfire effects.
  6. Emphasize the Impact of Misinformation: Make people aware of the potential consequences of the misinformation. Understanding the significance can motivate individuals to reassess their beliefs.
  7. Use of Visuals and Clear Language: Sometimes, complex information can be more effectively communicated through visuals or simplified explanations. This can make the correct information more accessible and memorable.

Suggested use in training

  • Create a game where participants are presented with a mix of true and false statements on various topics. These statements should be realistic and relevant to their everyday life or professional field. After each statement, participants vote on whether they believe the statement is fact or fiction. Then, reveal the correct answer and provide a brief explanation or evidence supporting it.
    Outcome: This activity encourages critical thinking and skepticism, vital in combating the Continued Influence Effect. It also teaches participants to question initial impressions and seek evidence before forming beliefs.
  • Present participants with real-world case studies where misinformation had a significant impact (e.g., health misinformation, false news stories). In groups, participants analyse the case to identify the misinformation, how and why it spread, the efforts made to correct it, and the aftermath of these efforts. Each group then presents their findings and discusses lessons learned.
    Outcome: This activity provides insight into the dynamics of misinformation spread and the difficulty of correcting it once established. It also helps participants understand the importance of verifying information and the role of responsible information sharing.