How Hearing Something Now, Can Lead You to Believe the Opposite Later

If I were to say that “crocodiles sleep with their eyes closed,” and then a week later ask you if “crocodiles sleep with their eyes open,” what would you say? The answer might surprise you.

How Hearing Something Now, Can Lead You to Believe the Opposite Later

We’ve long known of a phenomenon dubbed the truth effect, i.e., that repeated exposure to a claim makes you more likely to believe it is true, regardless of whether or not it really is. This may sound about as surprising as being told that the pope is Catholic, but interestingly it now seems that repetition-induced belief also spreads to similar sounding, but utterly contradictory statements. This suggests that rather than internalizing claims we hear and having a tendency to automatically mentally tag them as true as has previously been suggested, we are simply more likely to believe things that sound familiar to us.


If I were to say that “crocodiles sleep with their eyes closed” and then a week later ask you if “crocodiles sleep with their eyes open,” would you be more or less likely to answer true or false? According to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, you’d be more likely to say, “True: Crocodiles sleep with their eyes open,” after a week, but, "False: Crocodiles sleep with their eyes closed," if asked on the same day. Similarly, if you are told that “the first animated film was shot in France,” a week later you are, bizarrely, more likely to believe that “the first animated film was shot in England” than you are to believe some other factoid pulled from the sky.

Human beings are suckers for controversy. lf we weren’t, then gossip magazines wouldn’t have pride of place on newsstands.

The new findings build on earlier research that shows how warning people that things are false can lead them to incorrectly remember those things as true, because they forget the label "false," but remember the rest of the statement. This presents a massive problem for those attempting to debunk false information.

Together these findings demonstrate how smear campaigns can be devastatingly effective; the researchers suggest that the statement, “The boss did not harass the employee,” can be just as damaging as the opposite statement, creating an “illusion of truth.” When this occurs — or similarly when debunking a myth — the researchers suggest it may be more effective to simply ignore the error and head straight for the truth:

 “At least in some situations, it may be more effective to just tell the truth without mentioning what was wrong.”

This is often easier said than done. It is human nature to want to set the record straight. Nobody wants to read news articles that are just strings of facts with no story. Human beings are suckers for controversy. If we weren’t, then gossip magazines wouldn’t have pride of place on newsstands. This probably isn’t something that is going to change soon, so the “illusion of truth” is a quirk of human nature we might just have to learn to accept.

So, do crocodiles sleep with their eyes open or closed? It turns out that everyone was wrong all along. A new study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology has just found that crocodiles in fact can sleep with one eye open and one eye closed!

Follow Simon Oxenham on TwitterFacebookGoogle+RSS, or join the mailing list to get each week's post straight to your inbox. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Reference 

Garcia-Marques, T., Silva, R. R., Reber, R., & Unkelbach, C. (2015). Hearing a statement now and believing the opposite later. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology56, 126-129.

Skurnik, I., Yoon, C., Park, D. C., & Schwarz, N. (2005). How warnings about false claims become recommendations. Journal of Consumer Research31(4), 713-724.

Credit: fergregory via Adobe Stock
Surprising Science
  • Australian scientists found that bodies kept moving for 17 months after being pronounced dead.
  • Researchers used photography capture technology in 30-minute intervals every day to capture the movement.
  • This study could help better identify time of death.
Keep reading Show less

Meet the worm with a jaw of metal

Metal-like materials have been discovered in a very strange place.

Credit: Mike Workman/Adobe Stock
Personal Growth
  • Bristle worms are odd-looking, spiky, segmented worms with super-strong jaws.
  • Researchers have discovered that the jaws contain metal.
  • It appears that biological processes could one day be used to manufacture metals.
Keep reading Show less

Don't be rude to your doctor. It might kill you.

Dealing with rudeness can nudge you toward cognitive errors.

Photo by Jonathan Borba from Pexels
Surprising Science
  • Anchoring is a common bias that makes people fixate on one piece of data.
  • A study showed that those who experienced rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to bad data.
  • In some simulations with medical students, this effect led to higher mortality rates.
Keep reading Show less
Strange Maps

Welcome to the United Fonts of America

At least 222 typefaces are named after places in the U.S. — and there's still room for more.

Quantcast