The hypercorrection effect: Correcting misinformation and false beliefs
“I know it’s true, I heard about it somewhere…”.
Simple words that strike such fear in the hearts of lawyers monitoring mock jurors from behind the infamous mirrored glass. We’ve all heard it and the absolute certainty in tone that accompanies this dubious but emphatic proclamation. And we’ve also heard that it’s nearly impossible to correct/modify/change those beliefs. Until now. There are many things for which we are grateful to social science researchers, but this development ranks right up there.
What is the hypercorrection effect? It’s pretty simple but flies in the face of what we tend to believe about the persistence of false beliefs. According to the authors, the hypercorrection effect refers to the reality that “errors made with high confidence are more likely to be corrected with feedback“. Unfortunately, “high confidence errors are more likely to be corrected, but they are also more likely to be reproduced if the correct answer is forgotten“. In other words, the corrected versions are easy to forget.
Duke university researchers wanted to see if they could modify firmly held (but inaccurate) information in students. So they had them respond to 120 different questions on basic science information (e.g., “What is stored in a camel’s hump?” or “How many chromosomes do people have?” or “What is the driest area on Earth?”). After each question, the students rated their confidence in that response–high or low–and then were given the correct answer. Some students were retested six minutes later and the others were retested one week later.
Those immediately retested corrected 86% of their errors. They were more likely to correct errors they had made with high confidence in their accuracy. [This is the hyper-correction effect.]
Those retested a week later also showed the hyper-correction effect but it was diminished in strength. These students only corrected 56% of their errors–they had simply forgotten the correct answers they received the week prior.
The researchers suggest that one retrieval of accurate versus false information is not enough to ‘stick’ in memory and suggest repeated practices. Followup research confirms this suggestion. So. What might this mean for litigation advocacy? We are so glad you asked!
There are multiple ways you can use the hypercorrection effect and this is a good thing since it apparently takes multiple corrections to make the effect stick! We will use one of the examples from the paper (camels and their humps) but this strategy can be used for any firmly held belief relevant to your case.
First, introduce the accurate information via expert testimony. “Contrary to popular belief. camels store fat in their humps and not water.”
Then express surprise, “Wait! You said camels store fat in their humps? I always thought it was water.”
And then the expert repeats the correct information.
You raise the correct information again later, “Mr. Jones, do you recall Ms. Simpson’s testimony as to what camels store in their humps?” Whether Mr. Jones says yes or no, have the relevant testimony re-read to reinforce the hypercorrection effect.
And finally, you return to the information again in your closing. “You may have been surprised to hear camels carry fat in their humps and not water. I know I was!”
You may even want to incorporate the correct information into an exhibit that jurors can examine throughout trial and in deliberations. We did a mock trial last weekend in which the mock jurors asked for just that–a three dimensional model of the invention and demonstrative exhibits that illustrated the two processes at issue so they could more easily retain in memory which was which. At trial, the jurors will be provided the tools that the mock jurors wanted. And they will be color coded for easy recall!
The idea is simply to repeat (carefully and not to the point of annoyance among jurors) the factual correction so that jurors recall the truth in deliberations.
Since you are dying to know–here are the correct answers to the science questions listed in this post:
What is stored in a camel’s hump? Answer: Fat.
How many chromosomes do humans have? Answer: 46 (23 pairs).
What is the driest area on Earth? Answer: Antarctica.
Butler, A., Fazio, L., & Marsh, E. (2011). The hypercorrection effect persists over a week, but high-confidence errors return Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 18 (6), 1238-1244 DOI: 10.3758/s13423-011-0173-y