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Debunking health myths on the internet: the persuasive effect of (visual) online communication


Kessler, Sabrina Heike; Bachmann, Eva (2022). Debunking health myths on the internet: the persuasive effect of (visual) online communication. Journal of Public Health, 30(8):1823-1835.

Abstract

Aim
Developing evidence-based recommendations on how to debunk health-related misinformation and more specific health myths in (online) communication is important for individual health and the society. The present study investigated the effects of debunking/correction texts created according to the latest research findings with regard to four different health myths on recipients’ belief, behaviour and feelings regarding the myths. Further, the study investigated the effects of different visualisations (machine-technical created image, diagram, image of an expert, message without an image) in the debunking texts.

Subject and methods
A representative sample of German Internet users (N = 700) participated in an anonymous online survey experiment with a 4 (myths) × 4 (picture) mixed study design

Results
The results show that receiving an online news article that refutes a widespread health myth with or without the use of an image can significantly change the attitudes of the recipients toward this myth. The most influential variable was the attributed credibility: the more credible a debunking text is for a recipient, the more corrective effectiveness it has. However, the corrective messages did not differ in their persuasive effects depending on the image types used.

Conclusion
The results offer an optimistic outlook on the correction of health-related misinformation and especially health myths and insight into why and how people change their beliefs (or not) and how beliefs in health myths can be reduced. The findings can be used by journalists, scientists, doctors and many other actors for efficient (online) communication.

Abstract

Aim
Developing evidence-based recommendations on how to debunk health-related misinformation and more specific health myths in (online) communication is important for individual health and the society. The present study investigated the effects of debunking/correction texts created according to the latest research findings with regard to four different health myths on recipients’ belief, behaviour and feelings regarding the myths. Further, the study investigated the effects of different visualisations (machine-technical created image, diagram, image of an expert, message without an image) in the debunking texts.

Subject and methods
A representative sample of German Internet users (N = 700) participated in an anonymous online survey experiment with a 4 (myths) × 4 (picture) mixed study design

Results
The results show that receiving an online news article that refutes a widespread health myth with or without the use of an image can significantly change the attitudes of the recipients toward this myth. The most influential variable was the attributed credibility: the more credible a debunking text is for a recipient, the more corrective effectiveness it has. However, the corrective messages did not differ in their persuasive effects depending on the image types used.

Conclusion
The results offer an optimistic outlook on the correction of health-related misinformation and especially health myths and insight into why and how people change their beliefs (or not) and how beliefs in health myths can be reduced. The findings can be used by journalists, scientists, doctors and many other actors for efficient (online) communication.

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5 citations in Scopus®
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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Department of Communication and Media Research
Dewey Decimal Classification:070 News media, journalism & publishing
Scopus Subject Areas:Health Sciences > Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
Uncontrolled Keywords:Debunking strategies, Health myths, Correction of misinformation, Visual online health communication, Visualisation
Language:English
Date:1 August 2022
Deposited On:15 Feb 2022 14:35
Last Modified:26 Jun 2024 01:54
Publisher:Springer
ISSN:2198-1833
OA Status:Hybrid
Free access at:PubMed ID. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1007/s10389-022-01694-3
PubMed ID:35070640
Project Information:
  • : FunderUniversity of Zurich
  • : Grant ID
  • : Project Title
  • Content: Published Version
  • Language: English
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)