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Refutations of Equivocal Claims: No Evidence for an Ironic Effect of Counterargument Number

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)98-107
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition
Issue number1
Early online date13 Sep 2018
DateAccepted/In press - 25 Jul 2018
DateE-pub ahead of print - 13 Sep 2018
DatePublished (current) - 1 Mar 2019


This study investigated the refutation of equivocal claims using counterarguments. Common sense suggests that more counterarguments should be more effective at inducing belief change. However, some researchers have argued that in persuasive reasoning, using too many arguments might lead to counterproductive skepticism and reactance. Thus, there have been calls to actively curtail the number of counterarguments used in refutations to avoid risking an “overkill backfire effect”—an ironic strengthening of beliefs from too many counterarguments. In three experiments, we tested whether calls to limit the number of counterarguments are justified. We found that a larger number of counterarguments (between four and six) led to as much or more belief reduction compared to a smaller number of (two) counterarguments. This was not merely an effect arising from a simple numerosity heuristic, as counterarguments had to be relevant to affect beliefs: irrelevant counterarguments failed to reduce beliefs even though perceived as moderately persuasive.

    Research areas

  • Misinformation, Debunking, Belief updating, Refutations

    Structured keywords

  • Memory

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    Rights statement: This is the author accepted manuscript (AAM). The final published version (version of record) is available online via Elsevier at . Please refer to any applicable terms of use of the publisher.

    Accepted author manuscript, 587 KB, PDF document

    Licence: CC BY-NC-ND


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