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Unveiling the truth: warnings reduce the repetition-based truth effect

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Abstract

Typically, people are more likely to consider a previously seen or heard statement as true compared to a novel statement. This repetition-based “truth effect” is thought to rely on fluency-truth attributions as the underlying cognitive mechanism. In two experiments, we tested the nature of the fluency-attribution mechanism by means of warning instructions, which informed participants about the truth effect and asked them to prevent it. In Experiment 1, we instructed warned participants to consider whether a statement had already been presented in the experiment to avoid the truth effect. However, warnings did not significantly reduce the truth effect. In Experiment 2, we introduced control questions and reminders to ensure that participants understood the warning instruction. This time, warning reduced, but did not eliminate the truth effect. Assuming that the truth effect relies on fluency-truth attributions, this finding suggests that warned participants could control their attributions but did not disregard fluency altogether when making truth judgments. Further, we found no evidence that participants overdiscount the influence of fluency on their truth judgments.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Notes

  1. Interestingly, only 17 participants reported that they had considered the repetition status of a statement before providing their truth rating. The other participants reported that they had tried to prevent the truth effect by relying on the statements’ plausibility or background knowledge (n = 7), by providing neutral judgments (n = 2), or by thinking longer about the presented statements (n = 3). Moreover, two participants reported that they had not used a certain strategy to prevent the truth effect.

  2. Some participants (n = 26) reported that they had considered the repetition status of the statements to prevent the truth effect (e.g., “I erred on the false side for repeated statements I was not sure about”). Other participants (n = 32) reported that they had tried to base their truth ratings exclusively on previous knowledge, logic, or the plausibility of presented statements (e.g., “I simply thought of whether a statement made sense, not if I'd already seen it”). The remaining participants (n = 15) reported ideosyncratic strategies to prevent the truth effect (e.g., “Answer everything as if I saw it for the first time. First reaction to the question.”).

  3. Seventeen participants of the control condition had correctly hypothesized that statement repetition affects truth ratings. However, excluding these participants did not change the pattern of results and significance in any of the analyses.

  4. Warnings did not eliminate the effect of heavy accents on truth ratings. However, because Lev-Ari and Keysar (2010) did not implement a control condition in their warning experiment, it is unclear whether warnings attenuated the effect of heavy accents on truth ratings.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by a University of Mannheim autonomy grant awarded to the first author and a German Research Foundation grant awarded to the second author (AS 427/1-1). We thank Bettina Schmidt for her dedicated help in setting up Experiment 1 and collecting data.

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Correspondence to Lena Nadarevic.

Appendix

Appendix

See Table 3.

Table 3 Counterbalancing of statement sets A, B, C, and D across experimental phases in Experiment 1

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Nadarevic, L., Aßfalg, A. Unveiling the truth: warnings reduce the repetition-based truth effect. Psychological Research 81, 814–826 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-016-0777-y

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-016-0777-y

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