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Why People Believe Misinformation, and Ways to Change Their Minds

By Jeremy Dean

We all know that lies and misinformation are floating about all over the place. So why do some people end up believing it?

The problem is that the way people go about believing things (or not) is fundamentally weird. Few bother actually checking the facts for themselves; the majority use these mental shortcuts:

  • Does it feel right? Does the new information square with what someone already believes?
  • Does it make sense? Things that are easy to understand are easier to believe. The mind repels complicated stuff.
  • Is the source believable? People who seem authoritative, or hold positions of power, are more likely to be believed.
  • Who else believes it? People prefer to go along with the herd and unfortunately think that most other people agree with them, even if, in reality, they don’t.

But this still doesn’t explain why people continue to believe all kinds of weird stuff, even after it’s been proven to them to be false. It turns out that even once misinformation has been completely retracted and those involved have admitted it was lies, misinformation is difficult to kill.

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky and his co-authors say it’s possible to kill off misinformation, but hard. You will need help from eight psychological techniques, which include providing a brief, alternate account that explains why something happened; continuing to repeat the facts; challenging the credibility of the source of the misinformation; and affirming the word view of the one’s audience. 

Source: Excerpted from PsyBlog, by Jeremy Dean, which credits an excellent article by Professor Stephan Lewandowsky and colleagues


Researchers Link Origin of Intelligence to Brain Disease

Researchers have identified the moment in history when the genes evolved that enabled humans and other mammals to think and reason.

This point 500 million years ago provided huge advantages, but the origins of intelligence are also linked to brain disease. The study shows that intelligence in humans developed as the result of an increase in the number of brain genes in our evolutionary ancestors. 

The researchers suggest that a simple invertebrate animal living in the sea 500 million years ago experienced “a genetic accident” that resulted in extra copies of these genes being made. This animal’s descendants benefited from these extra genes, leading to behaviorally sophisticated vertebrates—including humans.

The research team studied the mental abilities of mice and humans, using comparative tasks that involved identifying objects on touch-screen computers. They then combined results of these behavioral tests with information from the genetic codes of various species to deduce when different behaviors evolved.

They found that higher me-tal functions in humans and mice were controlled by the same genes. The study also showed that when these genes were mutated or damaged, they impaired higher mental functions. The researchers had previously shown that more than 100 childhood and adult brain diseases are caused by gene mutations.

Source: University of Edinburgh. The study appears in two papers in Nature Neuroscience.

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