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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Overcoming Miss Conception

Updated: Dec 4, 2022

Miss Conception is a fictional character depicting misinformation, fake news, and falsehoods

Meet Miss Conception – AKA “contagious falsehoods” because they are so common. In honor of nutrition communication, how many of these misconceptions have you heard…?

“Sugar causes hyperactivity.” NOPE

“Apple cider vinegar helps you lose weight.” ‘fraid not

“Swallowed gum takes 7 years to digest.” It doesn’t.

What are some other misconceptions that are widely believed?

Do you believe you lose body heat most rapidly from your head? You don’t.

Do you believe bats are blind? They aren’t.

Do you believe cracking your knuckles gives you arthritis? It won’t.

People who believe these will likely fall for Fake News.

Good news and bad news about fake news

I have some good news and some bad news about fake news. First the good news – According to a survey of how well people trust online sources, only 5% said they trusted social media as a source of accurate news all of the time. (1)

However, there is also bad news – according to research – misconceptions such as “vaccines cause autism” – can be harder to change than ignorance about a topic – because those who believe it consider themselves well-informed and believe it with great certainty. (2,3,4)

Not only that, but falsehoods spread faster and further than the truth via social media. A study comparing the diffusion of 126,000 stories on Twitter, found a 70% higher probability for people to share lies over the truth. (5)

Why do people fall for misconceptions?

A recent article in National Geographic provided a number of reasons people fall for misconceptions, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and other falsehoods. (6) These include:

  • People are inundated with a “deluge of data muddled with falsehoods” which has been coined an “infodemic” by the World Health Organization.

  • Misinformation often provides a simple explanation and gives people a sense of control.

  • When people are anxious they crave “cognitive closure,” or shortcuts to decision-making, and are less likely to think critically.

  • As misinformation is repeated it becomes increasingly believed. “The brain mistakes familiarity for truth.” This can even happen when a media story or article presents misinformation as false.

  • Believing conspiracy theories is one way for people to deal with the psychological turmoil resulting from real or perceived failure.

  • People defend the viewpoints of groups they are loyal to and are wary of the opinions and beliefs of outsiders.

Can people learn to separate fact from fiction?

It is possible to learn how to separate fact from fiction and Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide covers this important topic in Chapter 5. A contributing author to this chapter, Alice Henneman, MS, RDN, FAND, created a free PowerPoint that is available for download here:

Miss Conception is only one of many ways we miscommunicate. Check out these other posts:

People don’t like not knowing things, and often feel obliged to form opinions about things they don't understand. To discourage people from clinging to false beliefs, we should encourage the idea that it’s rational to change one’s mind in the face of new information.” ~ Joseph A. Vitriol, social and political psychologist, Stony Brook University

2. Pasek, et al. J. of Communication, 2015

3. Freed, et al. Pediatrics, 2010

4. Nyhan, et al. Medical Care, 2013

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