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The Hazards of Correcting Myths About Health Care Reform

Nyhan, Brendan, PhD*; Reifler, Jason, PhD; Ubel, Peter A., MD

doi: 10.1097/MLR.0b013e318279486b
Brief Report

Context: Misperceptions are a major problem in debates about health care reform and other controversial health issues.

Methods: We conducted an experiment to determine if more aggressive media fact-checking could correct the false belief that the Affordable Care Act would create “death panels.” Participants from an opt-in Internet panel were randomly assigned to either a control group in which they read an article on Sarah Palin’s claims about “death panels” or an intervention group in which the article also contained corrective information refuting Palin.

Findings: The correction reduced belief in death panels and strong opposition to the reform bill among those who view Palin unfavorably and those who view her favorably but have low political knowledge. However, it backfired among politically knowledgeable Palin supporters, who were more likely to believe in death panels and to strongly oppose reform if they received the correction.

Conclusions: These results underscore the difficulty of reducing misperceptions about health care reform among individuals with the motivation and sophistication to reject corrective information.

*Department of Government, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH

Department of Political Science, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA

Madge and Dennis T. McLawhorn University Professor of Business, Public Policy and Medicine, Duke University, Durham, NC

Supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health to P.A.U. P.A.U. was also supported by a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Award in Health Policy Research and B.N. by a Robert Wood Johnson Scholars in Health Policy Research fellowship.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Reprints: Brendan Nyhan, PhD, Department of Government, Dartmouth College, 305 Silsby Hall, HB 6108, Hanover, NH 03755. E-mail:

© 2013 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.