Look it up: Online search reduces the problematic effects of exposures to inaccuracies

Amalia M. Donovan, David N. Rapp*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


People often reproduce information they read, which is beneficial when that information is accurate. Unfortunately, people are also often exposed to inaccurate information, with subsequent reproductions allowing for problematic decisions and behaviors. One empirically validated consequence of exposures to inaccuracies is that after reading falsehoods, participants are more likely to make errors answering related questions than if they previously read accurate statements, particularly for unfamiliar information. Interventions designed to attenuate these reproductions are often ineffective, at least as studied in tasks that restrict participants to generating answers based on text content and relevant prior knowledge. In the real world, however, people have access to outside resources to evaluate information. In three experiments, we tested whether affording the option to search for relevant online information following exposure to inaccurate statements would reduce reproductions of those inaccuracies on a post-reading task. Participants given the opportunity to search for information were less likely to reproduce inaccurate information and more likely to produce correct responses, in comparison to the performance of participants who were not allowed to search. We also tested whether warnings about potentially inaccurate information would encourage searches and inform responses. While warnings increased searching, additional reductions in inaccurate reproductions were not observed. Given the contingencies of many lab tasks, reproductions of inaccurate information might be overestimated. Resources available in the real world can offer useful supports for reducing the influence of and uncertainty associated with inaccurate exposures, consistent with contemporary accounts of memory and comprehension.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1128-1145
Number of pages18
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020


  • Inaccurate information
  • Memory
  • Online search
  • Reading comprehension
  • Text processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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