Does knowing the scientific evidence help to dispel widespread unfounded beliefs?

The case of limiting housing rents

Jordi Brandts, Instituto de Análisis Económico (CSIC) and Barcelona Graduate School of Economics (BGSE)
Isabel Busom, UAB
Cristina Lopez-Mayan, Euncet Business School
Judith Panadés, UAB and BGSE
Project selected in the Call for experimental research projects in the social sciences

Support for rent capping is very widespread because it is thought that this measure will enable more people to gain access to housing. However, most academic studies show that the measure does not have the desired impact: not only does it fail to guarantee that more families will be able to access housing, but it actually results in a reduction in the number of rental dwellings. Given a case of broad scientific consensus such as this, we study the impact of providing the public with written information about the real effects of the measure. By means of an experiment, we find that providing information with scientific arguments and evidence leads to a remarkable reduction in the belief. This reduction is larger among people who show a stronger disposition to think reflectively rather than instinctively. Furthermore, greater concern for equal opportunities and a favourable opinion of the role of social sciences in designing public policy are also associated with a larger reduction in support for the belief.
Key points
  • 1
       Support 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.
  • 2
       Providing 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.
  • 3
       A 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.
  • 4
       Concern 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.

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Authors

Jordi Brandts , Instituto de Análisis Económico (CSIC) and Barcelona Graduate School of Economics (BGSE)
Isabel Busom , UAB
Cristina Lopez-Mayan , Euncet Business School
Judith Panadés , UAB and BGSE

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