Misinformation: Why it sticks and how to fix it

Have you ever had a customer stubbornly cling to outdated or erroneous specifying practices? Of course you have. Few building product sales are made to individuals that offer a blank slate of preferences, so selling often requires you to get someone to reassess what they believe.

New research, reported in ScienceDaily looks into cognitive factors that make certain pieces of misinformation "sticky" and identifies techniques that may be effective in debunking or counteracting erroneous beliefs. The report states:

Weighing the plausibility and the source of a message is cognitively more difficult than simply accepting that the message is true -- it requires additional motivational and cognitive resources. If the topic isn't very important to you or you have other things on your mind, misinformation is more likely to take hold.

And when we do take the time to thoughtfully evaluate incoming information, there are only a few features that we are likely to pay attention to: Does the information fit with other things I believe in? Does it make a coherent story with what I already know? Does it come from a credible source? Do others believe it?

Even worse, efforts to retract misinformation often backfire, paradoxically amplifying the effect of the erroneous belief.

The report offers these strategies for setting the record straight:
•Provide people with a narrative that replaces the gap left by false information

•Focus on the facts you want to highlight, rather than the myths

•Make sure that the information you want people to take away is simple and brief

•Consider your audience and the beliefs they are likely to hold

•Strengthen your message through repetition

Research, and my own experience in the building products business, has shown that attempts at "debiasing" can be effective in the real world when based on these evidence-based strategies.