Vulnerability to the Effects of Conflicting Health Information: Testing the Moderating Roles of Trust in News Media and Research Literacy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Exposure to conflicting health information can produce negative affective and cognitive responses, including confusion and backlash, and the effects of this exposure can even “carry over” and reduce people’s receptivity to subsequent messages about health behaviors for which there is scientific consensus. What is not known is whether certain population subgroups are more vulnerable to such carryover effects. Aims: This study investigates whether carryover effects of exposure to conflicting information are moderated by two factors, trust in news media and research literacy, testing the hypothesis that lower trust and higher literacy could protect against such effects. Method: The analysis draws on data from a longitudinal population-based experiment (N = 2,716), in which participants were randomly assigned to view health news stories and social media posts that either did or did not feature conflicting information, and subsequently exposed to ads from existing health campaigns about behaviors for which there is scientific consensus. Structural equation modeling was used to test study hypotheses. Results: Neither lower trust in news media nor higher research literacy protected against carryover effects, as effects were observed across levels of both trust and literacy. Although level of research literacy did not affect whether carryover effects were observed, it did shape how those effects emerged. Conclusion: The public, regardless of their level of trust in news media or research literacy, is vulnerable to the downstream effects of exposure to conflicting health information. Targeted health communication interventions are needed to improve messaging about evolving science and, in turn, increase receptivity to public health recommendations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalHealth Education and Behavior
StateAccepted/In press - 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was supported by a grant from the National Cancer Institute (5R21CA218054-02; PI: RHN). This content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Society for Public Health Education.


  • carryover effects
  • conflicting health information
  • health communication
  • research literacy
  • survey-based experiment
  • trust in news media

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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