The Problem with "Myths and Facts"
Research reveals that an effort to improve mental health views may not help.
Posted February 25, 2022 | Reviewed by Tyler Woods
- A "myths and facts" campaign exposes people to a myth about an issue followed by a fact.
- "Myths and facts" campaigns are used to challenge damaging beliefs and promote improved views toward people with mental health conditions.
- Researchers tested a "myths and facts" mental health campaign and found that it didn't work and might even heighten misinformed views.
Have you ever seen a public health awareness campaign ad that presented an assortment of myths and facts? They’re employed frequently, making it quite likely that you’ve happened upon at least one along the way. The idea behind this sort of campaign, as you might imagine, is to help improve people’s understanding of an issue. Intuitively, its appeal makes sense. If you present folks with a myth and then contrast that with accurate information, this certainly seems like it would be an effective way of dispelling inaccurate ideas and replacing them with veracious ones. But does it work?
According to a recently published study, not only do we have reason to think that this type of campaign doesn’t work as well as we might imagine, it also runs the risk of perpetuating erroneous, stigmatizing ideas. More specifically, researchers considered the impact of this sort of campaign on people’s views toward individuals who have a mental health issue. They asked the people in the study to read a brochure featuring various myths and facts associated with mental health conditions, and then asked them to complete a questionnaire. Some folks in the study filled out the questionnaire one time, right after they read the brochure; other individuals answered the same questions a few minutes or a few days later.
The researchers found that the tactic of showing people myths and facts did not shift people’s beliefs in a more fact-based direction. Instead, among the folks who filled out the questionnaire half an hour before, some (but not all) of their ideas actually became less accurate and more stigmatizing. Why would this happen? As the researchers pointed out, individuals who are exposed to a "myths and facts" campaign may wind up mistakenly recalling some of the myths as facts. In fairness, the researchers were right to point out that their results only highlight what can occur when people come across a "myths and facts" advertisement once, and that the same effect may not happen if people were able to experience the same ad on a number of occasions.
At the same time, the researchers also recommended that if someone is hoping to transform and elevate perspectives toward people with mental health conditions, they would do well to choose another method and keep mental health myths off the table. Sound advice, indeed. Although a "myths and facts" advertisement may seem a little more engaging and snappy than one with solely facts, the researchers noted that it doesn’t seem to work and it could even increase the very problem it’s intended to remedy.
Dobson, & Rose, S. (2021). “Myths and facts” campaigns are at best ineffective and may increase mental illness stigma. Stigma and Health, 7, 27–34.