Dispelling Misconceived Beliefs about Rent Control: Insights from a Field and a Laboratory Experiment

Abstract

False beliefs about natural, health and socio-economic issues are pervasive in society. Many persist even when contradicted by scientific evidence. We conduct a classroom field and a laboratory experiment to investigate the effect of a particular communication strategy, the refutation text, previously used in the natural sciences and psychology, on a widespread economic misconception: the belief that rent controls make housing available to more people. Our interests are in successfully communicating social science results to the general public and promoting deep learning in economics courses. We find that in the field and in the laboratory a refutation text induces a substantial belief change in the direction of expert knowledge. In the field its impact is significantly larger than that of the natural control, whereas in the laboratory the impact is larger than that of an appropriate control, but not significantly so. The persuasiveness of the refutation text is higher for less reflective participants when the refutation text is read individually, whereas team discussion enhances the positive effect of the text independently of cognitive ability.