Can social influence reduce bias in the interpretation of scientific information, even when this information challenges people to change negative health behaviors? Smokers often misinterpret the scientific information in anti-smoking warning labels because of motivated reasoning, where people misconstrue data on the basis of political and psychological biases. The addictiveness of cigarettes creates an even stronger incentive for smokers to ignore or misinterpret the scientific information in anti-smoking campaigns. In an online experiment, we use engineered social networks to harness peer influence among smokers and nonsmokers in such a way that counteracts and eliminates biased interpretations of warning labels. The methods developed for this study are relevant more broadly to the design of communication networks that can resist the rise of misinformation, while also fostering the growth of positive health behaviors.
Research on this project was supported under the NIH Grant from the Tobacco Centers for Regulatory Control for “Using Social Networks to Improve Scientific Communication about Tobacco Use.” The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.