Friday, August 28, 2009

Myth vs. Fact—What Do People Really Remember?

Suicide prevention and gatekeeper training programs often use the "Myth vs. Fact" format when presenting information. But what do people really remember?

It turns out, according to two recent published reports, that people often confuse the myths with the facts when trying to remember what they read.

This has led to an advisory issued by the Texas Department of State Health Services
and the Texas Suicide Prevention Council not to use the "Myth vs. Fact" format in any training, curriculum, materials or public service announcements.

In one study, researchers looked at health education campaigns designed to motivate people to get vaccinated against the flu. They found that after a delay of 30 minutes, participants who read a "Facts and Myths" flyer about the flu vaccine systemically misremembered myths as facts. They also were less likely to take the desired action of getting vaccinated as compared to those who read a "Facts Only" flyer or the control group who read no flyer.

"People show a bias to think that incompletely remembered information is true, turning 'myths' into 'facts,'" conclude the researchers. "Hence public information campaigns should emphasize information that is true. Repeating false information, even as a warning, can create the unintended consequence of belief in the information."

Schwarz et al also wrote about this phenomenon in the book "Advances in Experimental Social Psychology," Volume 39, published in 2007. "Public information campaigns that confront myths with facts, or warn people that a given claim is false, necessarily reiterate the information they want to discredit. This strategy is successful as long as people remember what is true and what is false. Unfortunately, memory for these details fades quickly."

For more information, read this and other articles in our latest
I AM H・E・R・E Coalition e-newsletter. To see previous e-newsletters, visit www.iamherecoalition.org.

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