Does knowing the scientific evidence help to dispel widespread unfounded beliefs?
The case of limiting housing rents
1Support for rent capping is very widespread in society, with no major differences by gender, educational level, age or housing tenure status. However, the vast majority of research on the effect of this policy shows that it does not work and may lead to the appearance of corruption and a black market.
2Providing a text with scientific information, with either an explanatory tone or a refutative one, notably reduces the unfounded belief among the participants in the experiment. Those who agree or totally agree with the belief amount to 78% of the sample before reading the scientific information, falling to 41% after reading it.
3A stronger disposition to think reflectively, relative to instinctively, encourages a certain abandonment of the unfounded belief. Thus, whereas 60% of more reflective participants reduced their support for the belief, 50% of more instinctive respondents maintained it.
4Concern for equal opportunities is a factor in reducing support for the belief. Among those who were most in favour of equal opportunities, 60% reduced their support for the belief. In contrast, support dropped by 40% among those who were more opposed to equality.
Initially, a large percentage of participants in the experiment – 78% – either agreed or totally agreed with the statement that rent capping enables more people to access rental housing. This widespread belief is not backed up by social science research.
After reading a text with scientific information on the real effects of this type of regulation, the degree of agreement with the statement falls notably: only 41% of the participants agree or totally agree with the initial statement, which amounts to a drop of 37 percentage points.
This change indicates that social science research results can be communicated effectively to citizens. However, our research also shows that this communication format was only partly successful, as 41% of the participants maintained the unfounded belief. Hence, it is necessary to continue exploring other formats.