Continued influence effect of misinformation

Definition of Continued Influence Effect

The continued influence effect refers to the phenomenon that people continue to use misinformation in their reasoning, even after learning that the information is false – even when they understand and accept it to be misinformation.

This debunked information may fill a causal “gap” in a narrative and enhance comprehension of an event. The problem is, of course, that the understanding of that event is subsequently inaccurate.

Mememic infection

Disinformation affects people long after being debunked.


When people know and accept that certain narratives are not true, they may still use those them to explain certain events.

For instance, someone who accepts that the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spreads primarily through droplets generated when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks, may still refuse to wear a mask because of a perceived worldwide authoritarian plot behind the pandemic and the narrative it’s all a hoax.

It cannot be both a hoax and an actual virus that may spread by unsafe behavior. So even though the latter is accepted as true, that information is ignored.

Example continued influence effect

A woman distributes a newspaper that contains misinformation. According to her, the paper contains information that is hidden from the rest of us, who still believe the so-called mainstream media.

The publication she is plugging attracted contributions of some well-known conspiracy theorists. Its origin is unbeknownst to her. Nor does she know who is bank-rolling it (thus, whose agenda she is advancing).

She admits that she has no idea who is behind it. Interestingly, she did not care to research this, because she is always very vocal about the perceived opaque ownership structure of mainstream media. This curious inconsistency is pointed out to her. Yet, unabashed she continues to distribute the newspaper.

This is an example of the continued influence effect, because she can only maintain the narrative that “she has access to real information that the rest of us don’t have”, if she ignores that this important newspaper of her community has opaque financial backing.