How Communicating Misleading Information Dilutes Public Understanding of Weight Loss Mechanisms

John W. Gastil, Robert Marriott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

The biomedical literature describes clearly the direct mechanisms influencing weight gain, but broader public discourse on the subject is rife with misleading claims about the factors that cause people to gain or lose weight. We examine how such misleading claims can dilute accurate information to the point that people arrive at poor judgments about the direct causes of weight gain. We adapt the conventional experimental paradigm used in dilution research (Nisbett, Zukier, & Lemley, 1981) to measure the effect of different information levels of dilution. We use a pair of online survey experiments to distinguish the effects of receiving distractingly plausible information versus raw information overload. These experiments also probe the limits of the dilution effect by using a large national sample of participants who vary by their health information efficacy and other potential moderators. Results suggest that public confusion about weight loss may stem from a dilution effect, which remains constant across a wide range of subgroups one might otherwise expect to resist it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1524-1532
Number of pages9
JournalHealth Communication
Volume34
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 15 2019

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Dilution
Weight Gain
Weight Loss
Weights and Measures
level of information
Moderators
cause
experiment
Health
moderator
health information
online survey
Research
Experiments
paradigm
discourse
Surveys and Questionnaires

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Communication

Cite this

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How Communicating Misleading Information Dilutes Public Understanding of Weight Loss Mechanisms. / Gastil, John W.; Marriott, Robert.

In: Health Communication, Vol. 34, No. 12, 15.10.2019, p. 1524-1532.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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