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continued influence effect

The continued influence effect should be distinguished from the backfire effect. With the continued influence effect, one learns "facts" about an event that later turn out to be false or unfounded, but the discredited information continues to influence reasoning and understanding even after one has been corrected. The backfire and continued influence effects should be disheartening to those who think that the first step in arguing with those who base their beliefs on misinformation should be to get their opponents to see what the facts are. Correcting errors may be pointless when dealing with some people. Critical thinkers, one would hope, would want errors corrected. At the very least, getting the facts right might prevent some faulty inferences and prevent one from behaving in ways that could prove harmful. For example, getting the facts straight about tobacco and alcohol would be a first step in guidance toward reasonable actions regarding those substances. Johnson and Seifert have argued that providing a plausible causal alternative, rather than simply negating misinformation, mitigates the continued influence effect. They may be right for some beliefs, but I have not found that providing a causal alternative to astrologers, acupuncturists, homeopaths, parapsychologists, or defenders of applied kinesiology, for example, has had much effect on true believers. Political beliefs, religious beliefs, and woo-woo beliefs seem impenetrable to facts that contradict them. Changes in these beliefs seem more likely to occur outside of direct confrontation with opponents.

For more on the continued influence effect, see my Unnattural Acts blog post on the topic.

See also backfire effect, motivated reasoning, Belief Armor, Evaluating Personal Experience, Why Do People Believe in the Palpably Untrue?, and Defending Falsehoods.

further reading


Carretta, T. R. and R. L. Moreland. 1983. The direct and indirect effects of inadmissible evidence. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 13, 291—309. (abstract)

Drum, Kevin. 2008. The Backfire Effect. Mother Jones.

Gollust, Sarah E., Paula M. Lantz, and Peter A. Ubel (2009). “The Polarizing Effect of News Media Messages About the Social Determinants of Health.” American Journal of Public Health 99(12): 2160-2167.

Johnson, Hollyn M. and Colleen M. Seifert. 1994. Sources of the Continued Influence Effect When Misinformation in Memory Affects Later Inferences  Journal of Experimental Psychology. Vol. 20, No. 6, 1420-1436. "The findings suggest that misinformation can still influence inferences one generates after a correction has occurred; however, providing an alternative that replaces the causal structure it affords can reduce the effects of misinformation."

Lebo, Matthew and Daniel Cassino. 2007. “The Aggregated Consequences of Motivated Reasoning.” Political Psychology 28:6.

Nyhan, Brendan and  Jason Reifler. 2010. When Corrections Fail: The persistence of political misperceptions. (prepublication version) Political Behavior 32(2): 303-330.

Redlawsk, David (2002). “Hot Cognition or Cool Consideration? Testing the Effects of Motivated Reasoning on Political Decision Making.” Journal of Politics 64(4):1021-1044.


The Power of Political Misinformation by Shankar Vedantam, The Washington Post. 15 September 2008. "...a series of new experiments show that misinformation can exercise a ghostly influence on people's minds after it has been debunkedeven among people who recognize it as misinformation. In some cases, correcting misinformation serves to increase the power of bad information."

Keohane, Joe. 2010. How facts backfire Researchers discover a surprising threat to democracy: our brains. Boston.com. "The participants who self-identified as conservative believed the misinformation on WMD and taxes even more strongly after being given the correction. With those two issues, the more strongly the participant cared about the topic — a factor known as salience — the stronger the backfire. The effect was slightly different on self-identified liberals: When they read corrected stories about stem cells, the corrections didn’t backfire, but the readers did still ignore the inconvenient fact that the Bush administration’s restrictions weren’t total."


The Frontal Cortex, Cognitive Dissonance and Politics, 16 September 2008.

Last updated 14-Jan-2014

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