LAWRENCE —visual logo for their brand, believing that consumers apply a logo’s meaning to its accompanying brand. Source: Marketing scholar investigates psychological effects of logo design Consumer behavior literature supports this assumption by documenting how a logo’s meaning can affect attitudes toward and beliefs about associated brands. New research by a University of Kansas marketing […]
Isn’t it scandalous that BarackObama, whose health-care reform law established death panels, is a Muslim who was born in Kenya? And isn’t it scary that all those scientific studies have shown that childhood vaccines can cause autism?
You might not believe these falsehoods, but if so, you’re a minority. In a 2015 study, political scientist Adam Berinsky of MIT asked thousands of US voters to rate the truth or falsity of seven myths, such as that Obama is a Muslim or that vote fraud in Ohio swung the 2004 presidential election to George W. Bush. On average, people believed about two of them, he found. “Some people believe a lot of crazy things,” Berinsky said, “but mostly it’s a lot of people believing a few crazy things.”
Such credulity is bad enough in terms of personal decision-making, as when it causes parents to opt out of childhood vaccines. The notion that a democracy’s electoral decisions are partly shaped by outright lies and slanted rumors must have George Orwell chortling smugly in his grave. Even worse is that misinformation can be “sticky,” or impervious to correction. But the reasons we believe misinformation and resist efforts to debunk it shed some not-very-flattering light on the workings of the human mind.
Start at the beginning, when we first hear a claim or rumor. People “proceed on the assumption that speakers try to be truthful,” psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky of England’s University of Bristol and colleagues explained in Psychological Science in the Public Interest. “Some research has even suggested that to comprehend a statement, people must at least temporarily accept it as true.”
That’s because compared to assuming the truth of a claim, assessing its plausibility is cognitively more demanding. It requires paying careful attention, marshaling remembered facts, and comparing what we just heard to what we (think we) know and remember. With the exceptions of assertions from a messenger we reflexively mistrust (as in, “I won’t believe anything Fox News says”) or involving something we know like our own name, our cognitive reflex is that what we’re hearing is likely true. The mental deck is stacked in favor of belief, not skepticism.
In addition, people are generally more likely to accept claims that are consistent with what they already believe. In what’s called “motivated reasoning,” we process new information through the filter of our preexisting worldview. Think of the process as akin to filing papers. If a new document arrives and fits the contents of an existing folder, it’s much easier to file—remember—than if it doesn’t. Similarly, if many Americans had not already been primed with the idea that Obama is an outsider and a threat to “people like them,” the birthers and death-panel assertions would not have gained the traction they did.
So now we have widely-believed falsehoods. Let’s debunk them.
MIT’s Berinsky tried. In a 2015 study, he asked nearly 2,000 US voters whether the 2010 Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) established death panels that would decide whether treatment should be withdrawn from elderly patients. Among voters who said they follow political news, 57% said the death-panel claim was untrue, Berinsky reported in the British Journal of Political Science.
Fifty-seven percent might seem like cause to despair (“only 57% knew the truth?!”). But wait, it got worse. When Berinsky showed people information from nonpartisan sources such as the American Medical Association correcting the death-panel claim, it made little difference in the ranks of believers. “Rumors acquire their power through familiarity,” he said. “Merely repeating a rumor”—including to debunk it—“increases its strength” because our fallible brains conflate familiarity (“I’ve heard that before”) with veracity (“…so it must be true”). As a result, “confronting citizens with the truth can sometimes backfire and reinforce existing misperceptions.”
His findings reinforced something scientists had seen before: the “fluency effect.” The term refers to the fact that people judge the accuracy of information by how easy it is to recall or process. The more we hear something, the more familiar we are with it, so the more likely we are to accept it as true. That’s why a “myths vs. facts” approach to correcting beliefs about, say, vaccinations often fail. Right after reading such correctives, many people accept that something they believed to be true (that the flu vaccine can cause the flu, to take an example from one recent study) isn’t. But the effect fades.
Just hours later, people believe the myth as strongly as ever, studies find. Repeating false information, even in a context of “this is wrong,” makes it more familiar. Familiarity = fluency, and fluency = veracity. The Internet, of course, has exponentially increased the amount of misinformation available to us all, which means that we are “fluent” in evermore fallacious rumors and claims.
People judge the accuracy of information by how easy it is to recall or process. The more we hear something, the more familiar we are with it, so the more likely we are to accept it as true—even if we’re told it isn’t.
Debunking faces another hurdle: If misinformation fits with our worldview, then obviously the debunking clashes with that view. Earlier studies have shown that when self-described political conservatives were shown information that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) at the time of the 2003 invasion, they were more likely to believe Iraq had those weapons. Challenging a core conservative belief—that the invasion was justified on those grounds, that the George W. Bush administration was correct in claiming those weapons existed—caused them to double down on their beliefs. It is harder to accept that the report of WMDs in Iraq was false if one supported the 2003 invasion and the president who ordered it. WMD debunking worked, correcting erroneous beliefs, only among opponents of the invasion and others whose political beliefs meshed with the retraction, a 2010 study found.
Now, to switch presidents, relinquishing belief in Obamacare’s death panels challenges the mental model of the president as a nefarious schemer who hates People Like Me. If that’s my cognitive model, then removing the fact (sic) of death panels weakens it. Challenging my mental model makes me have to pause and think, wait, which negative rumors about Obama are correct and which are myths? Easier to believe they’re all true.
Misinformation is sticky because evicting it from our belief system requires cognitive effort. Remember the situation: Our mind holds an assertion that likely went down easy, cognitively speaking; we assumed the veracity of the source and fluently easily slotted it into our mental worldview. Now here comes contrary information. It makes us feel cognitively uneasy and requires more mental processing power to absorb. That’s the very definition of non-fluent: the information does not flow easily into our consciousness or memory.
All is not lost, however. In Berinsky’s death-panels study, he followed the AMA debunking with something quite different: quotes from a Republican senator slamming the rumors as a pack of lies. Now 69% agreed it was a fabrication—a significant uptick—with more disbelievers among both Democrats and Republicans. When an “unlikely source” refutes a rumor, Berinsky explained, and the debunker’s debunking runs contrary to its interests (a Republican defending Obamacare?!), “it can increase citizens’ willingness to reject rumors.”
If the most effective way to debunk false rumors is to get a politician to speak against his or her own interests…well, I leave it to you, reader, to decide if, in our hyperpartisan world, this is more likely to happen than pigs flying.
Sharon Begley is a senior science writer with The Boston Globe Media Group, author of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, and coauthor with Richard Davidson of The Emotional Life of Your Brain. She writes a regular column for Mindful magazine called Brain Science.
You probably know the Google Effect: the first rigorous finding in the booming research into how digital technology affects cognition. It’s also known as digital amnesia, and it works like this: When we know where to find a piece of information, and when it takes little effort to do so, we are less likely to remember that information. First discovered by psychologist Betsy Sparrow of Columbia University and her colleagues, the Google Effect causes our brains to take a pass on retaining or recalling facts such as “an ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain” (an example Sparrow used) when we know they are only a few keystrokes away.
“Because search engines are continually available to us, we may often be in a state of not feeling we need to encode the information internally,” Sparrow explained in her 2011 paper. “When we need it, we will look it up.” Storing information requires mental effort—that’s why we study before exams and cram for presentations—so unless we feel the need to encode something into a memory, we don’t try. Result: Our recollection of ostrich anatomy, and much else, dissipates like foam on a cappuccino.
It’s tempting to leap from the Google Effect to dystopian visions of empty-headed dolts who can’t remember even the route home (thanks a lot, GPS), let alone key events of history (cue Santayana’s hypothesis that those who can’t remember history are doomed to repeat it). But while the short-term effects of digital tech on what we remember and how we think are real, the long-term consequences are unknown; the technology is simply too new for scientists to have figured it out.
People spend an average of 3 to 5 minutes at their computer working on the task at hand before switching to Facebook or other enticing websites.
Before we hit the panic button, it’s worth reminding ourselves that we have been this way before. Plato, for instance, bemoaned the spread of writing, warning that it would decimate people’s ability to remember (why make the effort to encode information in your cortex when you can just consult your handy papyrus?). On the other hand, while writing did not trigger a cognitive apocalypse, scientists are finding more and more evidence that smartphones and internet use are affecting cognition already.
The Google Effect? We’ve probably all experienced it. “Sometimes I spend a few minutes trying hard to remember some fact”—like whether a famous person is alive or dead, or what actor was in a particular movie—“and if I can retrieve it from my memory, it’s there when I try to remember it two, five, seven days later,” said psychologist Larry Rosen, professor emeritus at California State University, Dominguez Hills, who researches the cognitive effects of digital technology. “But if I look it up, I forget it very quickly. If youcan ask your device any question, you do ask your device any question” rather than trying to remember the answer or doing the mental gymnastics to, say, convert Celsius into Fahrenheit.
“Doing that is profoundly impactful,” Rosen said. “It affects your memory as well as your strategy for retrieving memories.” That’s because memories’ physical embodiment in the brain is essentially a long daisy chain of neurons, adding up to something like architectI.M. Pei is alive or swirling water is called an eddy. Whenever we mentally march down that chain we strengthen the synapses connecting one neuron to the next. The very act of retrieving a memory therefore makes it easier to recall next time around. If we succumb to the LMGTFY (let me Google that for you) bait, which has become ridiculously easy with smartphones, that doesn’t happen.
To which the digital native might say, so what? I can still Google whatever I need, whenever I need it. Unfortunately, when facts are no longer accessible to our conscious mind, but only look-up-able, creativity suffers. New ideas come from novel combinations of disparate, seemingly unrelated elements. Just as having many kinds of Legos lets you build more imaginative structures, the more elements—facts—knocking around in your brain the more possible combinations there are, and the more chances for a creative idea or invention. Off-loading more and more knowledge to the internet therefore threatens the very foundations of creativity.
Besides letting us outsource memory, smartphones let us avoid activities that many people find difficult, boring, or even painful: daydreaming, introspecting, thinking through problems. Those are all so aversive, it seems, that nearly half of people in a 2014 experiment whose smartphones were briefly taken away preferred receiving electric shocks than being alone with their thoughts. Yet surely our mental lives are the poorer every time we check Facebook or play Candy Crush instead of daydream.
But why shouldn’t we open the app? The appeal is undeniable. We each have downloaded an average of nearly 30 mobile apps, and spend 87 hours per month internet browsing via smartphone, according to digital marketing company Smart Insights. As a result, distractions are just a click away—and we’re really, really bad at resisting distractions. Our brains evolved to love novelty (maybe human ancestors who were attracted to new environments won the “survival of the fittest” battle), so we flit among different apps and websites.
As a result, people spend an average of just three to five minutes at their computer working on the task at hand before switching to Facebook or another enticing website or, with phone beside them, a mobile app. The most pernicious effect of the frenetic, compulsive task switching that smartphones facilitate is to impede the achievement of goals, even small everyday ones. “You can’t reach any complex goal in three minutes,” Rosen said. “There have always been distractions, but while giving in used to require effort, like getting up and making a sandwich, now the distraction is right there on your screen.”
The mere existence of distractions is harmful because resisting distractions that we see out of the corner of our eye (that Twitter app sitting right there on our iPhone screen) takes effort. Using fMRI to measure brain activity, neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley of the University of California, San Francisco, found that when people try to ignore distractions it requires significant mental resources. Signals from the prefrontal cortex race down to the visual cortex, suppressing neuronal activity and thereby filtering out what the brain’s higher-order cognitive regions have deemed irrelevant. So far, so good.
The problem is that the same prefrontal regions are also required for judgment, attention, problem solving, weighing options, and working memory, all of which are required to accomplish a goal. Our brains have limited capacity to do all that. If the prefrontal cortex is mightily resisting distractions, it isn’t hunkering down to finish the term paper, monthly progress report, sales projections, or other goal it’s supposed to be working toward. “We are all cruising along on a superhighway of interference” produced by the ubiquity of digital technology, Gazzaley and Rosen wrote in their 2016 book The Distracted Mind. That impedes our ability to accomplish everyday goals, to say nothing of the grander ones that are built on the smaller ones.
The constant competition for our attention from all the goodies on our phone and other screens means that we engage in what a Microsoft scientist called “continuous partial attention.” We just don’t get our minds deeply into any one task or topic. Will that have consequences for how intelligent, creative, clever, and thoughtful we are? “It’s too soon to know,” Rosen said, “but there is a big experiment going on, and we are the lab rats.”
Tech Invasion LMGTFY
“Let me Google that for you” may be some of the most damaging words for our brain. Psychologists have theorized that the “Google Effect” causes our memories to weaken due merely to the fact that we know we can look something up, which means we don’t keep pounding away at the pathways that strengthen memory. Meanwhile, research suggests that relying on GPS weakens our age-old ability to navigate our surroundings. And to top it all off, the access to novel info popping up on our phone means that, according to Deloitte, people in the US check their phones an average of 46 times per day—which is more than a little disruptive.
Social media is undoubtedly a large part of most people`s lives these days, with an average person spending about 135 minutes daily on social media. This is more than two hours a day! Statistics reveal that teens spend up to nine hours daily on social media. With this in mind, we cannot help it but ask what draws people to spend so much of their time on social media. Well, a recent study tackled certain aspects of this issue.
Motivations for Social Media Use
The study, done by Ozimek and colleagues, came up with three motives for social media use. They included:
Self-presentation, or the need to present yourself and life as positively as possible (to both yourself and others)
Social interaction and the need to belong (staying in touch with friends and family members)
Although there might be more reasons than the ones outlined above, most of them stem from one of the three. For instance, if you tend to scroll back through your feed to remind yourself of some of the things you have posted earlier, self-presentation does matter to you. Regardless of your motivation for social media use, it is important to be aware of both the positive and negative effects it has on your wellbeing.
The researchers found that many people use social media in order to obtain materialistic goals and wondered whether materialism could be yet another motivation for social media use.
Materialism and Social Media
A recent study suggested that people having loads of Facebook friends are more materialist than those with fewer Facebook friends. “Materialistic people use Facebook more frequently because they tend to objectify their Facebook friends – they acquire Facebook friends to increase their possessions,” concluded the study’s researcher, Phillip Ozimek. The study involved use of a questionnaire to measure how much people actually compare themselves to others and their materialistic goals.
This falls in line with a previous study on materialism, which found that materialists collect things that they can show publicly, it is not about having them. And, Facebook is the ideal place for a materialist to display their items. In addition, there is yet another aspect of materialism –objectification- where materialists look on other people as objects. This is clearly seen in social media, where users tends to place quite a high value on the number of friends.
“More generally, we suggest that materialists have a tendency to view and treat non-material events (like friendships) as a possession or as means to attain their materialistic goals, the Ozimek study states.” This can be seen con job networking sites such as LinkedIn.
The Effects of Materialism
First and foremost, materialists often neglect the emotions of those they objectify, which can in turn impact interpersonal relationships. When a person feels devalued, they disconnect from the person.
Secondly, materialism could lead to emotional health problems too. When material items are the key to value, their removal might cause crisis or any other form of stress. If a certain person unfriends you, you can swap them for another. But, if a lot of people do the same, you are likely to question your own value, aren’t you?
It can be a full-time hobby to keep up with technology as it evolves. Every year, I find myself donating or selling my favorite gadgets as they become obsolete. However, there’s one ancient technology that I’ve been buying more than selling and that’s vinyl. And I’m not alone. Vinyl record sales hit a 28-year high in 2016, according to Fortune Magazine.
Raoul Benavides, owner of Flashlight Vinyl, explains why he was able to open a record store in 2016, and why we miss listening to vinyl records.
People like to think of themselves as savvy shoppers, but are still vulnerable to these common psychological tricks. Source: How Stores Trick You Into Buying More Things Oct 11, 2017 Video by The Atlantic How do consumers decide what to buy? The truth is that stores know you better than you do—both online and offline. […]