Reliable Sources? Correcting Misinformation in Polarized Media Environments

Published date01 January 2022
Date01 January 2022
Subject MatterArticles
2022, Vol. 50(1) 17 –29
American Politics Research
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X211041570
Citizens in western democracies hold wide-ranging and sys-
tematic misperceptions about immigrants to their home
countries. For example, people usually overestimate the
total number of immigrants or the proportion of immigrants
that are dependent on social welfare (Alesina et al., 2019).
These factual misperceptions are reinforced by the news
media and, in turn, can foster biased attitudes and stereo-
types (Wright et al., 2020). Given the extensive spread of
misinformation, researchers from various disciplines started
examining how corrective information may affect people’s
underlying attitudes (see Flynn et al., 2017 for a review).
However, while corrective information may alleviate some
factual misperceptions, it rarely affects people’s underlying
attitudes (Hopkins et al., 2019; Swire-Thompson et al.,
A possible explanation for this apparent disconnect could
be that factual information is simply irrelevant for attitude
formation and—if anything—serves as a mere justification
for people to rationalize their existing predispositions toward
immigrant populations. Yet the extent to which people
engage in such motivated reasoning is not without limits
since they tend to update their prior beliefs after reaching a
“tipping point” of counter-attitudinal information (Redlawsk
et al., 2010). Furthermore, recent studies on immigration
attitudes demonstrate the persuasiveness of certain interven-
tions such as canvassing (Kalla & Broockman, 2020).
Why do researchers frequently fail to find evidence of
attitude change after providing respondents with corrective
information? We argue that most experimental designs in
this area are inconclusive because they omit a crucial mecha-
nism: people’s discretion over whether to engage with a
given information source or not. Specifically, studies usually
employ simple random assignment of informational treat-
ments without considering people’s selective exposure.
Unfortunately, such a design does not allow us to estimate
the effect of misinformation corrections among people who
would have chosen to access the information in the first place
(De Benedictis-Kessner et al., 2019; Knox et al., 2019).
Furthermore, denying people the freedom to select sources
can increase reactance and counter-arguing and therefore
render corrections less effective (Stroud et al., 2019).
We address these shortcomings by implementing an
experimental design that varies both the source of misinfor-
mation corrections, as well as the process through which
people access the information. Specifically, we conduct an
1041570APRXXX10.1177/1532673X211041570American Politics ResearchKraft et al.
1University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA
2University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, USA
Corresponding Author:
Patrick W. Kraft, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Bolton 658, 3210
N. Maryland Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53201, USA.
Reliable Sources? Correcting Misinformation
in Polarized Media Environments
Patrick W. Kraft1, Nicholas R. Davis, Taraleigh Davis1,
Amanda Heideman1, Jason T. Neumeyer2,
and Shin Young Park1
Providing corrective information can reduce factual misperceptions among the public but it tends to have little effect on
people’s underlying attitudes. Our study examines how the impact of misinformation corrections is moderated by media
choice. In our experiment, participants are asked to read a news article published by Fox News or MSNBC, each highlighting
the positive economic impact of legal immigration in the United States. While the news content is held constant, our
treatment manipulates whether participants are allowed to freely choose a media outlet or are randomly assigned. Our
results demonstrate the importance of people’s ability to choose: While factual misperceptions are easily corrected
regardless of how people gained access to information, subsequent opinion change is conditional on people’s prior willingness
to seek out alternative sources. As such, encouraging people to broaden their media diet may be more effective to combat
misinformation than disseminating fact-checks alone.
political misperceptions, misinformation correction, immigration, selective exposure, attitude change

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