The Illusory Truth Effect

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. ”

Carl Sagan


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The Illusory Truth Effect

The Illusory Truth Effect


Key Ideas

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.

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.

    Carl Sagan

    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

    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.

    Information pollution is harmful

    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.

    The "firehose of propaganda" model

    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.

    Overcome the illusory truth effect

    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.



      The bandwagon effect

      It's a cognitive bias that causes people to think or act in a certain manner because they believe that other people are doing the same.

      For example, the bandwagon effect might cause...

      Examples of the bandwagon effect
      • The bandwagon effect can influence people’s political choices.
      • It can influence consumers’ decisions regarding which products to buy.
      • It can influence users’ decisions regarding how to rate stories or comments.
      • It can influence investors’ financial choices.
      • It can influence doctors’ medical decisions.
      • It can influence organizations’ implementation of new technologies.
      Why the bandwagon effect happens

      It serves as a mental shortcut that people instinctively use in order to make a decision quickly.

      Specifically, bandwagon cues, which are signs that other people believe something or are doing something, can trigger the thought that “if other people like this, then I should too”.

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      Information storms

      We often feel overwhelmed when we are exposed to a large volume of information. We also rely on secondary knowledge that does not come from any external source.

      To put it another way: rightly...

      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.
      How to handle an infostorm

      Infostorms are like actual storms: they are a product of climatic conditions. Different climates can produce different results.

      The more we understand the chain of events that led to a particular view, the better we are equipped to appreciate it if we are skeptical or take into account other perspectives.

      Youngsters Flock To TikTok

      Gen Z, youngsters born between 1997 to 2012, have a favourite social media app to connect with one another: TikTok. The usage has now skyrocketed due to schools being shut down and social distancin...


      The spread of misinformation on social media, which is leading to confusion, fear and violent incidents across the globe is the new information pandemic(infodemic) due to social media platforms like TikTok, among others.

      Social media companies are already aware of the dangers of misinformation from the 2016 U.S. Elections and are under the radar for their actions to fight this menace.

      Infected With Misinformation

      Social media remains ‘infected’ with false information, conspiracy theories, miracle cures and unverified rumours about the virus. The World Health Organization(WHO) has initiated a collaboration with the big tech giants like Facebook, Twitter and Google to check on the spread of misinformation. It has also worked with Chinese companies like Tencent and Weibo for weeding out misinformation.

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