Information operations · Information Warfare

Debunking: A Meta-Analysis of the Psychological Efficacy of Messages Countering Misinformation

This meta-analysis investigated the factors underlying effective messages to counter attitudes and beliefs based on misinformation. Because misinformation can lead to poor decisions about consequential matters and is persistent and difficult to correct, debunking it is an important scientific and public-policy goal. This meta-analysis (k = 52, N = 6,878) revealed large effects for presenting misinformation (ds = 2.41–3.08), debunking (ds = 1.14–1.33), and the persistence of misinformation in the face of debunking (ds = 0.75–1.06). Persistence was stronger and the debunking effect was weaker when audiences generated reasons in support of the initial misinformation. A detailed debunking message correlated positively with the debunking effect. Surprisingly, however, a detailed debunking message also correlated positively with the misinformation-persistence effect.


Arceneaux K. (2012). Cognitive biases and the strength of political arguments. American Journal of Political Science, 56, 271285. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5907.2011.00573.x Crossref
Arceneaux K.Johnson M.Cryderman J. (2013). Communication, persuasion, and the conditioning value of selective exposure: Like minds may unite and divide but they mostly tune out. Journal of Political Communication, 30, 213231. doi:10.1080/10584609.2012.737424 Crossref
*Berinsky A. J. (2012). Rumors, truths, and reality: A study of political misinformation. Retrieved from
Borenstein M.Hedges L.Higgins J.Rothstein H. (2009). Introduction to meta-analysis. New York, NYWileyCrossref
*Bullock J. G. (2007). Experiments on partisanship and public opinion: Party cues, false beliefs, and Bayesian updating. Department of Political Science, Stanford University. Retrieved from
Cacioppo J. T.Petty R. E.Crites S. L. J. (1994). Attitude change. In Ramachandran V. S. (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (pp. 261270). San Diego, CAAcademic Press.
Chaiken S.Trope Y. (1999). Dual-process theories in social psychology. New York, NYGuilford Press.
Cohen J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJErlbaum.
Duval S. (2005). The “‘trim and fill’” method. In Rothstein H. R.Sutton A. J.Borenstein M. (Eds.), Publication bias in meta-analysis: Prevention, assessment, and adjustments (pp. 127144). West Sussex, EnglandJohn Wiley & SonsCrossref
*Ecker U. K. H.Lewandowsky S.Apai J. (2011). Terrorists brought down the plane!—No, actually it was a technical fault: Processing corrections of emotive information. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 64, 283310. doi:10.1080/17470218.2010.497927 Crossref
*Ecker U. K. H.Lewandowsky S.Fenton O.Martin K. (2014). Do people keep believing because they want to? Preexisting attitudes and the continued influence of misinformation. Memory & Cognition, 42, 292304. doi:10.3758/s13421-013-0358-x CrossrefMedline
*Ecker U. K. H.Lewandowsky S.Swire B.Chang D. (2011). Correcting false information in memory: Manipulating the strength of misinformation encoding and its retraction. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 18, 570578. doi:10.3758/s13423-011-0065-1 CrossrefMedline
*Ecker U. K. H.Lewandowsky S.Tang D. T. W. (2010). Explicit warnings reduce but do not eliminate the continued influence of misinformation. Memory & Cognition, 38, 10871100. doi:10.3758/mc.38.8.1087 CrossrefMedline
Hart W.Albarracín D.Eagly A. H.Brechan I.Lindberg M. J.Merrill L. (2009). Feeling validated versus being correct: A meta-analysis of selective exposure to information. Psychological Bulletin, 135, 555588. doi:10.1037/a0015701 CrossrefMedline
Hedges L. V.Olkin I. (1985). Statistical methods for meta-analysis. Orlando, FLAcademic PressCrossref
Henig J. (2009). False euthanasia claims. Retrieved from
Hopewell S.McDonald S.Clarke M. J.Egger M. (2007). Grey literature in meta-analyses of randomized trials of health care interventions. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2, MR000010. doi:10.1002/14651858.MR000010.pub3 Crossref
Inzlicht M.Gervais W.Berkman E. (2015). Bias-correction techniques alone cannot determine whether ego depletion is different from zero: Commentary on Carter, Kofler, Forster, & McCullough, 2015. SSRN. doi:10.2139/ssrn.2659409 Crossref
Jerit J. (2008). Issue framing and engagement: Rhetorical strategy in public policy debates. Political Behavior, 30, 124. doi:10.1007/s11109-007-9041-x Crossref
*Johnson H. M.Seifert C. M. (1994). Sources of the continued influence effect: When misinformation in memory affects later inferences. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 20, 14201436. doi:10.1037/0278-7393.20.6.1420 Crossref
Johnson-Laird P. N. (1994). Mental models and probabilistic thinking. Cognition, 50, 189209CrossrefMedline
Johnson-Laird P. N. (2013). Mental models and consistency. In Gawronski B.Fritz S. (Eds.), Cognitive consistency: A unifying concept in social psychology (pp. 225244). New York, NYGuilford Press.
Johnson-Laird P. N.Byrne R. M. J. (1991). Deduction. Hillsdale, NJErlbaum.
Kahneman D. (2003). A perspective on judgment and choice: Mapping bounded rationality. The American Psychologist, 58, 697720. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.58.9.697 CrossrefMedline
Kepes S.Banks G. C.Oh I.-S. (2014). Avoiding bias in publication bias research: The value of “null” findings. Journal of Business and Psychology, 29, 183203. doi:10.1007/s10869-012-9279-0 Crossref
Kowalski P.Taylor A. K. (2009). The effect of refuting misconceptions in the introductory psychology class. Teaching of Psychology, 36, 153159. doi:10.1080/00986280902959986 Link
Lewandowsky S.Cook J.Oberauer K.Brophy S.Lloyd E. A.Marriott M. (2015). Recurrent fury: Conspiratorial discourse in the blogosphere triggered by research on the role of conspiracist ideation in climate denial. Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 3, 161197. doi:10.5964/jspp.v3i1.443 Crossref
Lewandowsky S.Ecker U. K. H.Seifert C. M.Schwarz N.Cook J. (2012). Misinformation and its correction: Continued influence and successful debiasing. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 13, 106131. doi:10.1177/1529100612451018 Link
McShane B. B.Böckenholt U.Hansen K. T. (2016). Adjusting for publication bias in meta-analysis: An evaluation of selection methods and some cautionary notes. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 11, 730749. doi:10.1177/1745691616662243 Link
Moher D.Liberati A.Tetzlaff J.Altman D. G. (2009). Preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses: The PRISMA statement. PLoS Medicine, 6(7), Article e1000097. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000097 Crossref
Newport F. (2013). Americans still think Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before war. Retrieved from
Newport F. (2015). In U.S., percentage saying vaccines are vital dips slightly. Retrieved from
Nyhan B. (2010). Why the “death panel” myth wouldn’t die: Misinformation in the health care reform debate. The Forum, 8(1), Article 5. doi:10.2202/1540-8884.1354 Crossref
Peters J. L.Sutton A. J.Jones D. R.Abrams K. R.Rushton L. (2008). Contour-enhanced meta-analysis funnel plots help distinguish publication bias from other causes of asymmetry. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 61, 991996. doi:10.1016/j.jclinepi.2007.11.010 CrossrefMedline
Peters J. L.Sutton A. J.Jones D. R.Abrams K. R.Rushton L.Moreno S. G. (2010). Assessing publication bias in meta-analyses in the presence of between-study heterogeneity. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society A: Statistics in Society, 173, 575591. doi:10.1111/j.1467-985X.2009.00629.x Crossref
Petty R. E.Briñol P. (2010). Attitude change. In Baumeister R. F.Finkel E. J. (Eds.), Advanced social psychology: The state of science (pp. 217259). Oxford, EnglandOxford University Press.
Schipani V. (2016). GMOs didn’t cause Zika outbreak. Retrieved from
Schwarz N.Sanna L. J.Skurnik I.Yoon C. (2007). Metacognitive experiences and the intricacies of setting people straight: Implications for debiasing and public information campaigns. In Zanna M. P. (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 39, pp. 127191). San Diego, CAAcademic Press. doi:10.1016/S0065-2601(06)39003-X 127 Crossref
Simonsohn U.Simmons J. P.Nelson L. D. (2015). Better P-curves: Making P-curve analysis more robust to errors, fraud, and ambitious P-hacking, a reply to Ulrich and Miller (2015). Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 144, 11461152. doi:10.1037/xge0000104 CrossrefMedline
Slothuus Vreese C. H. (2010). Political parties, motivated reasoning, and issue framing effects. The Journal of Politics, 72, 630645. doi:10.1017/S002238161000006X Crossref
Sperber D. (2009). Culturally transmitted misbeliefs. Beha-vioral & Brain Sciences, 32, 534535. doi:10.1017/S0140525X09991348 Crossref
Sterne J. A. C.Harbord R. M. (2004). Funnel plots in meta-analysis. The Stata Journal, 4, 127141.
*Thorson E. A. (2013). Belief echoes: The persistent effects of corrected misinformation (Doctoral dissertation, University of Pennsylvania). Retrieved from
van Assen M. A. L. M.van Aert R. C. M.Wicherts J. M. (2015). Meta-analysis using effect size distributions of only statistically significant studies. Psychological Methods, 20, 293309. doi:10.1037/met0000025 CrossrefMedline
Van Damme I.Smets K. (2014). The power of emotion versus the power of suggestion: Memory for emotional events in the misinformation paradigm. Emotion, 14, 310320. doi:10.1037/a0034629 CrossrefMedline
Vevea J. L.Woods C. M. (2005). Publication bias in research synthesis: Sensitivity analysis using a priori weight functions. Psychological Methods, 10, 428443. doi:10.1037/1082-989X.10.4.428 CrossrefMedline
Viechtbauer W.Cheung M. W.-L. (2010). Outlier and influence diagnostics for meta-analysis. Research Synthesis Methods, 1, 112125. doi:10.1002/jrsm.11 CrossrefMedline
Wilkes A. L.Leatherbarrow M. (1988). Editing episodic memory following the identification of error. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology A, 40, 361387. doi:10.1080/02724988843000168 Crossref