Our Inability To Think Rationally

A recent episode of NPR’s On the Media posited a dour explanation of how people process messages, rooted in truth, myth or lies. In an interview with Bob Garfield, Shankar Vedantam, columnist at the Washington Post, explained:

The mind relies on a number of rules of thumb, and one of the rules of thumb that it uses is that things that are more easily recalled are true even if the context in which they originally heard the statement was that the statement is false.

What happens, unfortunately, is our denial of the myth ends up repeating the myth and makes the myth itself more accessible to people’s memory. And furthermore, as the separate study that you note points out, what happens very often is that the “not” in the sentence essentially falls off with time in many people’s memories.

When you have people who are systematically trying to manipulate you, spread propaganda, for instance, and they repeat the same information over and over again, the fact that we are not very good at remembering where we heard a particular piece of information, we tend to believe that we have heard the information from multiple independent sources and therefore it must be true, rather than from the same untrustworthy source over and over again.

This was a very interesting interview. But you know what, it sounds like common communications principles and persuasion tactics to me. Ethics and truths aside, these are currencies in politics, PR and advertising. Ethics are an important matter, but separate. For better or worse, every individual brings their own ethics to the table. The full transcript is here.

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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