Un-bustable myths and stubborn minds: Pro-vaccine efforts backfire

Enlarge / An example of a frightening image, in this case a child with measles, which may convince some that vaccines have frightening side effects. (credit: Greene, Charles Lyman )

Striking at a myth with facts may only shore it up, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that three main intervention strategies for combating anti-vaccine lies and falsehoods were ineffective at changing minds. But perhaps more concerning, they found that over-time exposure to the interventions strengthened participants’ belief in those lies and falsehoods , researchers recently reported in PLOS One. The researchers speculate that the mere repetition of a myth during the process of debunking may be enough to entrench the myth in a believer’s mind.

“People tend to mistake repetition for truth, a phenomenon known as the ‘illusory truth’ effect,” the authors, led by Sara Pluviano at the University of Edinburgh, note. And when those myths are built into a framework of beliefs and world views—a cognitive consistency perspective —it becomes even harder to knock them out.

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