New research finds we’re more likely to believe a piece of false information conveyed in a television drama after two weeks have passed.
Newly published research suggests nuggets of misinformation embedded in a fictional television program can seep into our brains and lodge there as perceived facts. What’s more, this troubling dynamic seems to occur even when our initial response is skepticism.
That’s the conclusion of a study published in the journal Human Communication Research. It asserts that, immediately after watching a show containing a questionable piece of information, we’re aware of where the assertion came from, and take it with an appropriate grain of salt. But this all-important skepticism diminishes over time, as our memory of where we heard the fact or falsehood in question dims.
These findings are consistent with those of a 2007 study, which similarly found the persuasive effects of fictional narratives increase over time. In that case, the misinformation was embedded in a written story.
“Two studies have now shown that fiction (written and televised) can produce a delayed message effect,” Jensen and his colleagues write. This is troubling, they add, noting, “People are bombarded by mass media every day all over the world, and a sizeable (and growing) body of mass communication research has demonstrated that much of this content is distorted in a multitude of ways.”