Combining refutations and social norms increases belief change

Ullrich K.H. Ecker, Jasmyne A. Sanderson, Paul McIlhiney, Jessica J. Rowsell, Hayley L. Quekett, Gordon D.A. Brown, Stephan Lewandowsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Misinformed beliefs are difficult to change. Refutations that target false claims typically reduce false beliefs, but tend to be only partially effective. In this study, a social norming approach was explored to test whether provision of peer norms could provide an alternative or complementary approach to refutation. Three experiments investigated whether a descriptive norm—by itself or in combination with a refutation—could reduce the endorsement of worldview-congruent claims. Experiment 1 found that using a single-point estimate to communicate a norm affected belief but had less impact than a refutation. Experiment 2 used a verbally presented distribution of four values to communicate a norm, which was largely ineffective. Experiment 3 used a graphically presented social norm with 25 values, which was found to be as effective at reducing claim belief as a refutation, with the combination of both interventions being most impactful. These results provide a proof of concept that normative information can aid in the debunking of false or equivocal claims, and suggests that theories of misinformation processing should take social factors into account.

Original languageEnglish
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2022


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