Efforts to correct false beliefs about health care reform may backfire, depending on individuals' political views and level of knowledge, suggests a study in the February issue of Medical Care. The journal is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a part of Wolters Kluwer Health.
In the study, more politically knowledgeable people with positive views of Sarah Palin were likely to harden their opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) when presented with information debunking Palin's "death panel" claim, according to the study by Brendan Nyhan, PhD, of Dartmouth College and his colleagues Jason Reifler, PhD, of Georgia State University and Peter Ubel, MD, of Duke University. They write, "These results underscore the difficulty of reducing misperceptions about health care reform among individuals with the motivation and sophistication to reject corrective information."
Can Aggressive Fact-Checking Correct Health Care Misinformation?
The researchers conducted an online experiment to determine if more aggressive media fact-checking could help to correct false beliefs about the ACA. The study focused on "perhaps the most prominent example of misinformation about health reform"—Palin's 2009 claim that the ACA would create a "death panel" in which bureaucrats would determine whether seniors are "worthy of health care."
One group of survey participants read a news article reporting on Palin's "death panel" claim. The other group read the same article, but with an additional paragraph stating that "non-partisan health care experts have concluded that Palin is wrong."
Participants were then asked about their belief in death panels and support for the ACA. Responses were compared for participants with favorable versus unfavorable views of Palin and for those with differing levels of political knowledge, which was measured using a simple five-question test (e.g., How many times can a person be elected President?).
The participants' feelings toward Palin and their political knowledge both affected their responses to the correction. Among participants who viewed Palin favorably but had low political knowledge, the paragraph correcting the death panel myth led to reduced misperceptions and increased support for the ACA.
But the correction had the opposite effect among Palin supporters who scored higher on political knowledge. "Specifically, among high-knowledge respondents with very positive Palin feelings, corrective information about death panels made misperceptions worse and opposition to ACA stronger," Nyhan and colleagues write.