Skip to main content

A Closer Look at the Influence of Health-Related Misinformation: How Powerful Is It, Why Does It Happen, and How to Stop It?

Nathan Walter, PhD

Assistant Professor
Department of Communication Studies
Center for Communication and Health

School of Communication
Northwestern University

In the contemporary media environment, individuals often encounter myths, rumors, reporting errors, and misinformation deliberately or inadvertently circulated by the media, governments, and other interest groups. Although all types of dis/misinformation pose a substantial challenge, when it comes to medical advice, fake news, rumors, and pseudoscientific BS can result in physical harm or even death. To this end, massive efforts are devoted to debunking health-related misinformation; yet, scientific evidence of the effectiveness of these measures appear to be inconsistent. While some studies have found that corrective information can successfully debunk falsehoods, other studies suggest that individuals may struggle to discount misinformation, and, in some cases, correction attempts can even backfire by increasing support for the discredited position. Dr. Walter will present findings from two recent meta-analyses that assessed the continued influence of misinformation effect and the ability of nonpartisan fact-checkers to challenge the veracity and correctness of false information. The talk will also explore various psychological mechanisms that underlie these effects and provide specific recommendations for more effective correction efforts.

Presentation date: October 21, 2019.