File this one under sad but true: Most people will believe whatever you tell them, at least as long as a chart is involved, according to a study by Cornell University researchers that appears in this month's Public Understanding of Science journal. 

In a series of three experiments, researchers Aner Tal and Brian Wansik showed 174 study participants--most of whom had some college education--several versions of the description of a cold medicine. Of those who were shown a graphic with words, 97 percent said they believed the medicine worked. Conversely, of those who were only shown words with no graphic, 68 percent believed that it worked. 

But that's not all the researchers found. Those who said they "believed in science" were more likely to feel confident in the cold medicine after seeing the chart. 

Charts aren't the only marketing tack on the street. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, just hearing that something is backed by science makes people more prone to believe it. For example, when the researchers included the drug Florinef's chemical formula in a description--"It's carbon-oxygen-Helium-and-fluorine based"--study participants believed it would last two hours longer than when the formula wasn't mentioned. 

"Overall, the studies contribute to past research by demonstrating that even trivial elements can increase public persuasion, despite their not truly indicating scientific expertise or objective support," the researchers wrote. 

Perhaps it's time to work on being less gullible?

Published on: Oct 30, 2014