Dispelling Misconceived Beliefs: Insights from Experiments

Abstract

Some popular views about the workings of the economy are completely at odds with current empirical evidence and congruent theoretical explanations and therefore can be qualified as misconceptions. One consequence is that such beliefs lead to support for harmful policies. Dual process thinking and cognitive biases may contribute to explaining why misconceptions persist even when scientific information is provided to people. We conduct experiments to investigate, for the first time, whether presenting information in a refutational way affects people’s beliefs about an important socio-economic issue on which expert consensus is strong, the harmful effects of rent controls. Our refutation text induces a substantial belief change in the direction of expert knowledge, in the laboratory and in the field, although in the former the effect is estimated imprecisely. Measured against a common benchmark, the non-refutational text, the effects of the refutation text are of a similar magnitude. In addition, the persuasiveness of the refutation message varies with individual cognitive traits, and with whether team discussion among participants is allowed for.