If You Saw It in a Movie, It Must Be True. Right?

MSNBC, August 12, 2009

{snip} A new study shows that even students, with facts staring them in the face, tend to substitute Hollywood fiction for historical fact in their minds.

“What we found is that there’s something really special about watching a film that lets people retain information from that film, even when they had read a contradictory account in the textbook,” said Andrew Butler, a psychology researcher at Washington University in St. Louis during the time he and his colleagues conducted the study.

There’s a positive flip-side to this memory for movies: Researchers also found that historically accurate films can actually boost student learning alongside the usual textbook reading. {snip}

Warning: This film is . . .

Films that gloss over some truths could still prove useful viewing, as long as teachers warn students beforehand about the specific historical inaccuracies. General warnings about films being inaccurate proved about as useful as no warning at all.

Two experiments involving 108 students had different groups watch film clips from nine different movies. Students also read an accurate historical text blurb relating to each of the movies, and received different levels of warnings regarding the accuracy of the films.

The power of Hollywood clearly emerged when the film’s historical information matched the information in the text. Students who watched such film clips had about 50 percent greater correct recall of facts a week later, as opposed to students who just read a text.

But when the film’s information contradicted the text, students often wrongly recalled the misinformation up to half the time. Many students expressed their wrong information confidently, and sometimes even misattributed the source of their information as coming from the text, rather than from the film.

Only having the specific warning ahead of time reduced the misinformation effect, which previous studies have also found. {snip}

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