In the battle between fake news and facts, researchers have found that facts are at a disadvantage, notes Michelle Nijhuis, because facts alone “rarely dislodge misperceptions,” and sometimes even reinforce erroneous beliefs.
“Deliberate campaigns against climate change science — like the one launched by the American Petroleum Institute in the late 1990s that’s been much imitated since — have taken advantage of this tendency,” says Nijhuis.
Developed by Yale Law professor Dan Kahan, the theory of identity-protective cognition points out that people subconsciously resist facts that threaten their “defining values.” And the better we are at rationalizing, the better we are at resisting.
“Nobody likes to be misled, no matter their politics,” Nijhuis notes. “Psychologists have known for decades that people are more resistant to misinformation if they’re warned about it beforehand.”
According to two recent studies, however, it may be possible to “inoculate” people against misinformation about climate change, and with enough strategic inoculation, the researchers suggest, we could even reach a certain level of “herd immunity” to unhealthy effects of fake news.