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Why the illusory truth effect works
Repeating lies makes people believe they are true, show studies.
- Two recent studies looked at the illusory truth effect.
- The effect describes our propensity to start believing untrue statements if they are repeated.
- The phenomenon is a universal bias linked to cognitive fluency but can be counterbalanced.
In an age already beset by rampant misinformation and personality-driven realities imposed upon large segments of the global population, come new studies that show why finding the truth can be so hard. Both are concerned with the so-called illusory truth effect, which has been well-exploited by politicians of all stripes as well as advertisers.
The illusory truth effect is a well-studied and replicated psychological phenomenon that describes the fact that if a falsehood is repeated often enough, people will start to believe it. This has to do with familiarity – it's easier to process information you've comes across previously. This fact of how we are wired can create a feeling of fluency, explains Matthew Warren in the BPS Research Digest. Unfortunately, we may come to treat the recognition of a piece of content as a message that it's true.
Two recent studies delved further into this effect, first described in 1977, and came up with some sobering takeaways but also possible ways to use this bias to our advantage. Maybe you think your particular intelligence makes you immune to this play of the mind, but experiments carried out by Jonas De keersmaecker at Ghent University and an international team of psychologists showed that variations in cognition had no bearing on how strongly the illusory truth effect hit.
The researchers looked at how it worked across differences in cognitive ability or intelligence, the need for cognitive closure, or cognitive styles in six experiments with the number of subjects ranging from 199 to 336. The participants were made to read a mix of true and false trivia statements. Another study utilized fake and real headlines from politics.
What the psychologists found is that in all the studies, the illusory truth effect prevailed. The more participants saw false statements, the more likely they were to rate them as true or real. Any differences in how people thought did not impact the strength of the effect, highlighting that most of us are likely to start believing oft-repeated information.
In their conclusion, the researchers pointed to the effect not necessarily being as bad as it sounds. Rather, it is perhaps a useful universal bias, like a shortcut to pick out the truth that often works.
Another study, published in Cognition, looked at how we can try to stand up to this pervasive feature of our cognition. A team led by Nadia Brashier at Harvard University found that fact-checking bad claims using our own knowledge can help inoculate us from believing them later.
Their two-part study first involved asking 103 subjects on the veracity of 60 facts. Some of these were true like "The Italian city known for its canals is Venice", and some were false like "The planet closest to the sun is Venus". One group of participants had to rate whether the statements were true while the other rated on truthfulness. For the second part of the study, the researchers added another 60 statements of mixed truth to the 60 the subjects already saw.
The scientists found that the group which focused on how interesting the sentences were was more prone to the illusory truth effect than the one that focused on their accuracy. What's also important, discovered the researchers, is that education needs to be combined with a focus on accuracy, writing "Education only offers part of the solution to the misinformation crisis; we must also prompt people to carefully compare incoming claims to what they already know."
How to stop fake news
Ever since we've had the technology, we've looked to the stars in search of alien life. It's assumed that we're looking because we want to find other life in the universe, but what if we're looking to make sure there isn't any?
Here's an equation, and a rather distressing one at that: N = R* × fP × ne × f1 × fi × fc × L. It's the Drake equation, and it describes the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy with whom we might be able to communicate. Its terms correspond to values such as the fraction of stars with planets, the fraction of planets on which life could emerge, the fraction of planets that can support intelligent life, and so on. Using conservative estimates, the minimum result of this equation is 20. There ought to be 20 intelligent alien civilizations in the Milky Way that we can contact and who can contact us. But there aren't any.
Building a personal connection with students can counteract some negative side effects of remote learning.
- Not being able to engage with students in-person due to the pandemic has presented several new challenges for educators, both technical and social. Digital tools have changed the way we all think about learning, but George Couros argues that more needs to be done to make up for what has been lost during "emergency remote teaching."
- One interesting way he has seen to bridge that gap and strengthen teacher-student and student-student relationships is through an event called Identity Day. Giving students the opportunity to share something they are passionate about makes them feel more connected and gets them involved in their education.
- "My hope is that we take these skills and these abilities we're developing through this process and we actually become so much better for our kids when we get back to our face-to-face setting," Couros says. He adds that while no one can predict the future, we can all do our part to adapt to it.
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.