Why repetition reinforces a belief

The typical explanation is that our brains take shortcuts to save energy:

  • Statements presented in as easy-to-read color are judged as more likely to be true.
  • Aphorisms that rhyme (like “what sobriety conceals, alcohol reveals") seem more accurate than non-rhyming versions.



    Problem Solving


    The illusory truth effect

    It's our tendency to believe false information to be correct after repeated exposure to it.

    The illusory truth effect is the reason why advertising and propaganda works.

    Carl Sagan
    One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken.

    Fake news includes:

    • Misrepresented information
    • News items are taken out of context
    • Failing to check facts or do background research
    • Using claims from unreliable sources at face value
    • Parodies

    There is so much skewed news, that we have a difficult time trying to figure out what to pay attention to and what to disregard. We also sometimes lack the expertise to assess accuracy.

    The trickle of information pollution, like air pollution, builds up over time. The more we are exposed to it, the more likely we are to pick up false beliefs that are hard to get rid of.

    People that spread propaganda rely on repetition to change the beliefs and values of other people.

    Propaganda can be used to improve public health or boost patriotism. But it can also be used to undermine political processes.

    It has four distinct features:

    • It is high-volume and multi-channel
    • Rapid, continuous and repetitive
    • It makes no commitment to objective reality
    • It makes no commitment to consistency

    Firehouse propaganda can include internet users who are paid to repeatedly post in forums and comment sections on social media disputing legitimate information and spreading misinformation. It pushes us towards feelings like paranoia, mistrust, and suspicion.

    Information we consume is like the food we eat. If it's junk, our thinking will show that.

    • Quit the news as a way of entertainment. If you want to inform yourself of something, learn from trustworthy sources.
    • Engage with timeless wisdom that will improve your life.
    • Stick to reliable, well-known information sources.
    • Research unfamiliar sources before trusting them.
    • Be aware of sites that are funded entirely by advertising.
    • Don't rely on news in social media posts without sources.
    • Pay attention when news items are emotionally charged, as it may be a sign of manipulation.

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      • Uncertainty: Be it diseases, the political landscape, the global concerns of war, environment and other ongoing crises, we have truckloads of uncertainty in our hands, which is stressing us out.
      • Polarization: We are more polarized than anytime in history, trapped in our echo chambers, with our mind filled with confirmation bias. The distrust we have of those who don’t think like us fuels our polarized mindset.
      • Misinformation: Fake news is everywhere, and it is not just to spread misinformation, but to impair our critical thinking abilities.



      How misinformation builds
      • When we encounter unfamiliar information on a social network, we verify it in one of two ways. We either go through the burdensome process of countless claims and counter-claims to understand if it is true, or we rely on others by way of social proof.
      • If we search for online information, instead of coming up with our own way of assessing the quality or the usefulness of every website,  we rely on Google's PageRank algorithm to come up with the best sites. In essence, we rely on other people to source information by use of user traffic, reviews, ratings, clicks and likes.
      To question and assess the reputation of an information source, ask:
      • Where does it come from?
      • Does the source have a good reputation?
      • Who are the authorities who believe it?
      • What are my reasons for deferring to these authorities?

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