Popular EU myths are always interesting and entertaining. Everybody probably remembers the stories about bananas, cucumbers or the “bombay mix” as well as the ‘evil EU (= Eurocrats) in Brussels that has no idea about reality’. So, either you are active in producing EU myths or you try to demystify them. However, a common approach for the latter is to repeat the myth and try to explain the facts that led to the creation of the myth. Lots of EU blogs usually follow that strategy and also the European Commission is very active in revealing stories that contain twisted facts or even lies. An interesting list of newspaper items can be found here.
But is this the right approach? A new study from the University of Michigan suggests that this kind of approach only contributes to the persistence of myths. The Washington Post has the details:
The psychological insights yielded by the research, which has been confirmed in a number of peer-reviewed laboratory experiments, have broad implications for public policy. The conventional response to myths and urban legends is to counter bad information with accurate information. But the new psychological studies show that denials and clarifications, for all their intuitive appeal, can paradoxically contribute to the resiliency of popular myths.
The research does not absolve those who are responsible for promoting myths in the first place. What the psychological studies highlight, however, is the potential paradox in trying to fight bad information with good information. (…) The experiments also highlight the difference between asking people whether they still believe a falsehood immediately after giving them the correct information, and asking them a few days later. Long-term memories matter most in public health campaigns or political ones, and they are the most susceptible to the bias of thinking that well-recalled false information is true.
The experiments by Weaver, Schwarz and others illustrate another basic property of the mind — it is not good at remembering when and where a person first learned something. People are not good at keeping track of which information came from credible sources and which came from less trustworthy ones, or even remembering that some information came from the same untrustworthy source over and over again.
So, what are the implications for dealing with EU myths? Is it better not to mention a EU myth at all? Or do we need to repeat the facts all over again without mentioning the myth? Of course both approaches do not necessarily go well with any journalistic standard and are rather PR oriented!
What do you think? What are your experiences with deconstructing EU myths?