In Experiment 1, participants scoring higher versus lower on a racial prejudice questionnaire were presented with a fictitious news report about a liquor store robbery. Three versions of the report were presented, which differed in the description of the suspects. Two versions initially described the suspects as Aboriginal Australians; this information was later retracted in one version of the report (the retraction condition) but not in the other (the no-retraction control condition). The third version (the no-misinformation control condition) described the suspects as Caucasian and also contained no retraction. The two control conditions provided a ceiling and baseline, respectively, against which to assess the effects of the retraction. The no-misinformation condition was included because any description of a liquor store robbery in Australia may lead some people to assume that the suspects were Aboriginal on the basis of common stereotypes (cf. Wimshurst, Marchetti, & Allard, 2004); we thus expected this condition to yield a nonzero baseline. The experiment employed a 2 (racial prejudice: high vs. low) × 3 (retraction condition: no-misinformation, no-retraction, retraction) between-subjects design.
The racial prejudice scale used was the Attitudes Toward Indigenous Australians scale (ATIA; Pedersen, Beven, Walker, & Griffiths, 2004), an 18-item questionnaire with good validity and reliability (reported internal consistency α = .93; Pedersen et al., 2004), measuring racial prejudice toward indigenous Australians on 7-point Likert scales.
A priori power analysis (G*Power 3; Faul, Erdfelder, Lang, & Buchner, 2007) suggested that in order to detect a medium-size effect of η
2 = .1 at α = .05 and 1 – β = .80, the minimum sample size should be at least 90. In line with precedents (see, in particular, Ecker, Lewandowsky, & Apai, 2011), we decided to test a total of N = 144 participants, all undergraduate students from the University of Western Australia (97 females, 47 males; age range 17–46, mean age 19 years).Footnote 3 Approximately a third of these participants (n = 47) were randomly sampled from the upper and lower quartiles of a population of students prescreened with the ATIA (N = 379; the internal consistency of the ATIA in this population was α = .91). The remaining two thirds were not prescreened for pragmatic reasons (i.e., lack of access to a prescreened population). All participants completed the ATIA (again) during the experimental session (test–retest reliability on the subsample that completed the ATIA twice was high, ρ = .90). Participants were randomly assigned to the different retraction conditions and divided into higher and lower racial prejudice groups on the basis of median splits on their (more recent) ATIA score (n = 24 per cell).
Participants were given a fictitious news report, consisting of a series of 14 messages, each printed on a separate page, which provided an account of a liquor store robbery in Australia’s Northern Territory. Across conditions, the stories differed only at Message 5, when the critical information about the race of the suspects was introduced, and Message 11, in which that piece of critical information either was or was not retracted (see the Appendix in the supplemental materials).
In the no-misinformation condition, Message 5 stated that “police . . . believed the three suspects were Caucasian,” and Message 11 gave the neutral piece of repeated information that “Police . . . confirm[ed] that the owner of the store was the sole person in the store.” In the retraction and no-retraction conditions, Message 5 stated that “police . . . believed the three suspects were Aboriginal.” In the retraction condition, Message 11 then stated that “Police . . . no longer believed the suspects were . . . Aboriginal.” Message 11 in the no-retraction condition was identical to the neutral Message 11 of the no-misinformation condition.
Participants’ understanding of the story, and in particular their reliance on misinformation, was assessed using an open-ended questionnaire. The questionnaire contained ten inference questions, nine fact-recall questions, and two retraction-awareness questions (always given in this order, to prevent any impact from fact retrieval on people’s inferences; see the Appendix).
The inference questions required participants to infer something about the circumstances surrounding the incident and were designed to elicit responses indirectly related to the critical information—that is, the race of the suspects. For example, the inference question “Why did the shop owner have difficulty understanding the conversation between the attackers?” could be answered by relying on the critical information (e.g., that the intruders were speaking in their native Aboriginal language), although other explanations were possible (e.g., the attackers had their mouths covered or were intoxicated). The final inference question (“Who do you think the attackers were?”) was placed at the end of the fact-recall questions so that it appeared to be a recall question, but it was scored as an inference question.
The nine fact-recall questions were used to assess participants’ memory for the factual details of the story (e.g., “What sort of car was found abandoned?”). These questions did not relate to the race of the suspects. Finally, the two retraction-awareness questions tested participants’ awareness of the retraction (e.g., “Was any of the information in the story subsequently corrected or altered?”). The fact-recall and retraction-awareness questions were included to control for insufficient encoding, allowing for the potential exclusion of participants who did not recall the event sufficiently well or who may not have noticed the retraction at all.
Our analyses thus focused on (a) the accuracy of recall (fact-recall score), (b) memory for the retraction (retraction-awareness score), and most importantly, (c) reliance on the critical information (inference score).
Participants read the report at their own pace without backtracking; they were informed that their memory for and understanding of the report would be tested (to ensure adequate encoding). Reading was followed by a 30-min retention interval that was filled with an unrelated memory-updating computer task. Participants were then given the open-ended questionnaire and instructed to answer all questions in the order given. Finally, participants were given a bundle of three questionnaires to complete, the last of which was the ATIA. The ATIA was administered at the end of the procedure so as not to prime Aboriginal-related responses on the open-ended questionnaire; the two other questionnaires were unrelated to the study. The entire experiment took approximately 1 h.
Racial prejudice scores
ATIA scores ranged from 0 to 4.56 (the maximum possible score was 6). Across experimental conditions, the mean racial prejudice scores were 1.33 (SE = 0.07) and 2.91 (SE = 0.08) in the lower and higher racial-prejudice groups, respectively. We acknowledge that the ATIA score of the “high racial-prejudice” group in this experiment was only moderate.Footnote 4 The group difference was nonetheless significant, F(1, 142) = 220.63, MSE = 0.41, p < .001, η
2 = .61. The mean racial prejudice scores for all cells are given in the upper half of Table 1.
All open-ended questionnaires were scored by a trained scorer who was blind to the experimental conditions, following a standardized guide. Another trained scorer scored five questionnaires from each condition in order to assess interrater reliability, which was found to be very high (r > .95 for inference, fact-recall, and retraction-awareness questions).
Fact-recall questions were scored 1 for correct responses and 0 for incorrect responses. For certain questions, it was possible to receive partial marks of .5 or .33 for partially correct responses, as determined a priori in the scoring guide. Since nine fact-recall questions were presented, the maximum fact-recall score was 9. The retraction-awareness questions were given a score of 1 if participants remembered the retraction and a score of 0 if they did not. The maximum retraction-awareness score was 2.
The inference questions were scored 0 or 1. Any uncontroverted mention of Aboriginal people, Aboriginal culture or communities, or anything that directly implied that Aboriginal persons were the suspects of the robbery was counted as a reference to the critical information and given an inference score of 1. Examples of inferences scoring a 1 would be the response “The robbers were speaking in their Aboriginal language” to the inference question “Why did the shop owner have difficulty understanding . . . the attackers?,” or the response “Because police rarely solve crimes involving Aboriginals” to the inference question “Why do the police fear the case will remain unsolved?” In contrast, the response “First they thought the robbers were Aboriginals, but apparently not” to the inference question “Who do you think the attackers were?” would have been considered a controverted statement and given a score of 0. The maximum inference score was 10.
Accuracy of recall
Mean fact-recall accuracy rates (out of a maximum of 1) for the high- and low-prejudice groups are given in the upper half of Table 2. A two-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) with the factors Retraction Condition and Racial Prejudice revealed no significant effects, Fs < 2.84, ps > .05.
Awareness of retraction
The mean rates of retraction awareness (in the retraction condition, out of a maximum of 1) were .79 (SE = .08) and .85 (SE = .06) for the high- and low-prejudice groups, respectively. This difference was not significant, F < 1.
The mean inference scores for both the high- and low-prejudice groups across all conditions are shown in Fig. 1.
Not surprisingly, the number of references to the critical information was lowest [but not zero: M = 0.40, SE = 0.08; t(47) = 4.86, p < .001] in the no-misinformation condition, when the critical piece of information was never explicitly given. Also as expected, the number of references to the critical information was highest in the no-retraction condition, when this information was introduced but never challenged.
We ran a two-way between-subjects ANOVA on mean inference scores, with the factors Retraction Condition and Racial Prejudice. The analysis revealed reliable main effects of retraction condition, F(2, 138) = 43.81, MSE = 1.35, p < .001, η
2 = .39, and racial prejudice, F(1, 138) = 6.67, MSE = 1.35, p = .01, η
2 = .05. The interaction between retraction condition and racial prejudice was not significant, F(2, 138) = 1.58, p = .21. These effects were confirmed in an ANOVA excluding the no-misinformation control condition, yielding significant effects of retraction type, F(1, 92) = 16.21, MSE = 1.87, p < .001, η
2 = .15, and racial prejudice, F(1, 92) = 4.36, MSE = 1.87, p = .04, η
2 = .05, but no significant interaction, F(1, 92) = 2.01, p = .16.
A number of planned contrasts, again with mean inference scores as the dependent variable, were conducted, so as to assess the overall effectiveness of the retraction and to further examine the relationship between retraction type and racial prejudice. These results are reported in Table 3. First, we assessed the difference between the no-retraction and retraction conditions: The retraction significantly reduced the number of references to the critical information in both racial-prejudice groups (Contrasts 1 and 2). We then investigated whether a significant reliance on misinformation would emerge after a retraction (i.e., a continued-influence effect) by contrasting the retraction condition with the no-misinformation baseline condition. Contrasts 3 and 4 showed significant continued reliance on misinformation in both racial-prejudice groups, despite the retraction. Finally, the effects of racial prejudice were investigated and shown only to be significant in the no-retraction condition (Contrasts 5–7), meaning that people who scored relatively high on racial prejudice mentioned the race of the suspects more often than did people in the low-prejudice group, but mainly when this information was explicitly supplied without being subsequently retracted.Footnote 5
In Experiment 1, we examined the relationship between racial attitudes and the continued influence of racial misinformation. In line with previous research, Experiment 1 revealed that a simple retraction significantly reduced but did not eliminate reliance on misinformation (cf. Ecker, Lewandowsky, & Tang, 2010). This means that even participants in the low-prejudice group failed to fully discount the Aboriginal misinformation after a retraction; they continued to make a significant number of references to the misinformation. This suggests that strategic memory processes failed to suppress automatic activation of race-related misinformation, even in people who arguably are not predisposed toward maintaining a belief in the misinformation (i.e., Aboriginal robbers).
In terms of racial prejudice effects, we found that people with relatively high levels of racial prejudice made more references to attitude-congruent racial information, as long as this information was explicitly given and not retracted. However, relatively high racial prejudice did not lead to a failure to discount attitude-incongruent misinformation. On the contrary, the retraction of racial misinformation was equally effective in both prejudice groups. This finding is in line with the reanalysis of the Ecker, Lewandowsky, and Apai (2011) data reported at the outset, and it suggests that racial attitudes do not influence how people process a retraction of racial misinformation. If anything, the present retraction tended to be numerically more effective in the high-prejudice group (i.e., when it was attitude-incongruent), resulting in both groups making equivalent numbers of references to Aboriginal misinformation after a retraction. In sum, the results provide evidence against the notion that people generally seek to reinforce their preexisting attitudes by dismissing the retraction of misinformation.
One factor that may have influenced these results—in particular, the lack of interaction between racial prejudice and the effectiveness of the retraction—is the use of a stereotypical scenario. The liquor-store scenario in Experiment 1 was congruent with negative stereotypes about Aboriginal people (Wimshurst et al., 2004), and strong innuendo (setting the incident in Australia’s Northern Territory, a region with a large indigenous population, the use of Aboriginal place names, etc.) was intentionally used to boost the number of references to the critical information, in an attempt to avoid floor effects.Footnote 6 Since the knowledge and use of stereotypes can be largely independent from people’s attitudes (Devine & Elliot, 1995), participants in the low-prejudice group might have referred to the misinformation despite a retraction purely on the basis of the strong innuendo inherent in the story. This may have artificially inflated the level of postretraction misinformation reliance in the low-prejudice group, potentially masking an interaction involving level of prejudice.
Moreover, the racial information may have been more salient for people relatively high in racial prejudice, and this group’s higher scores may simply reflect this difference in salience, rather than being directly related to their racial attitudes. Experiment 2 was designed to address these concerns by using a scenario that was incongruent with stereotypes.