The Elusive Backfire Effect: Mass Attitudes’ Steadfast Factual Adherence
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Can citizens heed factual information, even when such information challenges their partisan and ideological attachments? The “backfire effect,” described by Nyhan and Reifler (Polit Behav 32(2):303–330. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-010-9112-2, 2010), says no: rather than simply ignoring factual information, presenting respondents with facts can compound their ignorance. In their study, conservatives presented with factual information about the absence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq became more convinced that such weapons had been found. The present paper presents results from five experiments in which we enrolled more than 10,100 subjects and tested 52 issues of potential backfire. Across all experiments, we found no corrections capable of triggering backfire, despite testing precisely the kinds of polarized issues where backfire should be expected. Evidence of factual backfire is far more tenuous than prior research suggests. By and large, citizens heed factual information, even when such information challenges their ideological commitments.
KeywordsBackfire effect Factual correction Misinformation Factual information
The authors would like to thank Leticia Bode, John Brehm, DJ Flynn, Jim Gimpel, Don Green, Will Howell, David Kirby, Michael Neblo, Brendan Nyhan, Gaurav Sood, and the participants at the Center for Stategic Initiatives workshop. Research support was generously furnished by the Cato Institute, and we owe a special debt of gratitude to Emily Ekins and David Kirby. All remaining errors are the responsibility of the authors.
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