New insights into how to correct false knowledge

February 7, 2012, Duke University

The abundance of false information available on the Internet, in movies and on TV has created a big challenge for educators.

Students sometimes arrive in classrooms filled with inaccurate knowledge they are confident is correct, indicating it is deeply entrenched in their memory.

According to Duke University researchers, educators might be able to help students overcome their by correcting inaccurate information then having the students practice retrieving it from memory.

"Errors that are deeply entrenched in memory are notoriously difficult to correct," said Andrew Butler, a post-doctoral researcher in Duke's Department of Psychology & Neuroscience, who led a recent study of how students correct false knowledge. "Providing students with feedback is the first step because it enables them to identify the error and learn the correct information."

Recent research in cognitive science has shown it is possible to correct false knowledge with feedback -- a phenomenon known as the hypercorrection effect. When students answer a test question wrong, the more confident they are in their original answer, the more likely they are to remember the right answer if corrected.

However, the hypercorrection effect seems to contradict our common experience that it is very difficult to correct deeply entrenched false knowledge. For example, anyone who has changed phone numbers knows how hard it is to learn the new number because the old number keeps coming to mind.

The Duke-led study helps to resolve this paradox. The study showed that false knowledge held with high confidence is more likely to be corrected in the short-term, but also more likely to come back in the long-term if the correction is forgotten.

"The hypercorrection effect is an interesting new phenomenon that seemed to contradict much of what we know about how people's memory works," Butler said. "The findings from our study show that this apparent contradiction is really just the result how the dynamics of error-correction shift over time."

Along with co-authors Lisa Fazio, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University, and Elizabeth Marsh, an associate professor in Duke's Department of Psychology & Neuroscience, Butler wanted to better understand how the relationship between a person's confidence in a response and his ability to correct errors changes over time.

The researchers gave 50 Duke undergraduate students a 120-question test on basic science information, with questions including: What is stored in a camel's hump? How many chromosomes do humans have? What is the driest area on Earth? After answering each question, students rated their confidence in their response, and then received the correct answer as feedback. Half the students were retested six minutes later, while the other half were retested one week later.

Students who were retested immediately corrected 86 percent of their errors. As expected, their responses showed a hypercorrection effect -- they were more likely to correct errors that they had made with high confidence relative to low-confidence errors.

In contrast, students who were retested one-week later also showed a hypercorrection effect. However, these students only corrected 56 percent of their errors, indicating they had forgotten many of the correct answers that they had learned from the feedback.

When students forgot the correct answer over the one-week delay, the opposite of the hypercorrection effect occurred -- the higher their confidence in their initial error, the more likely they were to re-produce that same error on the final test.

"Although high-confidence errors may be easily corrected in the short-run, our findings suggest that one presentation of feedback is not enough to produce a long-lasting correction of deeply entrenched false knowledge," Butler said. "Without further practice, high-confidence errors seem to be more likely to return over time."

Does this finding indicate we are doomed to retain deeply entrenched false knowledge? Perhaps not. The authors suggest we should view the hypercorrection effect as a valuable opportunity.

One idea they propose is to capitalize on the hypercorrection effect by providing students with additional opportunities to retrieve the correct information.

"Giving students repeated practice with retrieving information has been shown to promote long-term retention of that information," said Butler, who has also conducted research on using testing to promote long-term retention of information. "If practice retrieving the correct information, then they may be able to avoid reverting back to their deeply entrenched false knowledge."

Explore further: Historical movies help students learn, but separating fact from fiction can be challenge

More information: The study, "The Hypercorrection Effect Persists Over a Week, but High-Confidence Errors Return," appeared in the December print edition of the Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.

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4.4 / 5 (8) Feb 07, 2012
But first you have to get them into a legitimate school first and away from the sources of their incorrect information.
3.9 / 5 (7) Feb 07, 2012
But first you have to get them into a legitimate school first and away from the sources of their incorrect information.

And then you have to make them interact with a competent teacher and/or educationist. Both of which are rare enough below university-level institutions in North America.
3.3 / 5 (12) Feb 07, 2012
So often, the important, even crucial, aspect of an article slips by because so many people simply don't know to recognize it. This article ostensibly talks about "techniques for correcting false knowledge". Actually, that's misleading to the point of being a lie. These aren't methods of "correcting false knowledge", but, rather, of indoctrinating individuals to abandon previous ideas in favor of new ones! It's if those new ideas are honorable, and enacted by honorable people, that these methods yield good results, if not, they are merely inculcating programmed perceptions. Basically, this is only light weight brainwashing methodology! Unfortunately, for "science" addicts, to have something printed in a technical looking screed is enough to convince them utterly that it is completely trustworthy and absolutely honest! They don't question it and mock, harrass or harangue those who do.
3.5 / 5 (8) Feb 07, 2012
Re: "These aren't methods of "correcting false knowledge", but, rather, of indoctrinating individuals to abandon previous ideas in favor of new ones!"

I would agree. This study seems to be premised upon the notion that the purpose of science education is to get students to memorize the "correct" set of facts. John Taylor Gatto and many others have written extensively on this topic, and contrast that with a different take: that the point of education is to teach students how to think critically about the arguments sufficient to permit them an opportunity to come to their own meaningful conclusions.

Furthermore, the study authors seem to simplify the subject of correcting misconceptions. Critically thinking about complex scientific subjects demands an organized mind. Creative problem solving never comes from a disorganized mind. Thus, to correct misconceptions in complex scientific subjects, we should be looking to concept mapping and force concept inventory testing.
5 / 5 (1) Feb 07, 2012
The critical thinking process must be prioritized at all levels of education to begin and continue the removal of false information.
1.8 / 5 (4) Feb 07, 2012
I agree with most posters, this seems more geared towards 'Four legs good two legs better' type 'knowledge', simple Pavlovian question/answer stimulus/response AA good factoids, not actual thinking nor actual understanding, simple regurgitation of sanctioned truths.
5 / 5 (1) Feb 07, 2012
I agree with most posters, this seems more geared towards 'Four legs good two legs better' type 'knowledge', simple Pavlovian question/answer stimulus/response AA good factoids, not actual thinking nor actual understanding, simple regurgitation of sanctioned truths.

Therefore, it's good for learning history and politics for a high school test - or for getting a big pharma sanctioned MD. I still recall getting my hands on this college health multiple choice final exam that had been copied 100s of times. I studied it and got 100% on the final. I can't seem to remember any of it.
1 / 5 (3) Feb 08, 2012
Why not just ask that they be given the correct information in the first place?
Answer: It's all part of the LEARNING process - which is what actually drives/creates the heirarchal network structure of our brains. How do we decide what's correct info until we've been shown what's wrong info - and why...

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