Implanting beliefs is easier than changing them
April 3, 2010, 12:37 pm
Filed under: Memes, Propaganda, Psychology, Social Hacking

Old, but nevertheless interesting news (right-click to enlarge):

So on one hand, it’s very hard to shift people’s beliefs on a particular topic, once they have them.

Yet, it is fairly easy to give them new beliefs, even if those beliefs conflict with what they have previously been told:

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued a flier to combat myths about the flu vaccine. It recited various commonly held views and labeled them either “true” or “false.” Among those identified as false were statements such as “The side effects are worse than the flu” and “Only older people need flu vaccine.”

When University of Michigan social psychologist Norbert Schwarz had volunteers read the CDC flier, however, he found that within 30 minutes, older people misremembered 28 percent of the false statements as true. Three days later, they remembered 40 percent of the myths as factual.

Younger people did better at first, but three days later they made as many errors as older people did after 30 minutes. Most troubling was that people of all ages now felt that the source of their false beliefs was the respected CDC.

The psychological insights yielded by the research, which has been confirmed in a number of peer-reviewed laboratory experiments, have broad implications for public policy. The conventional response to myths and urban legends is to counter bad information with accurate information. But the new psychological studies show that denials and clarifications, for all their intuitive appeal, can paradoxically contribute to the resiliency of popular myths.

(hat-tip to Yves at Naked Capitalism for the above image and link)

How does this play out politically and in the media?  The Stiftung Leo Strauss explains, with a little emphasis from me:

To make it less abstract, Movement action in 2009 — whether throwing tea bags in Fred Smith’s corporate foyer because they forgot to get a public dumping permit — or politically executing a deviationist is both inherently good and necessary. Anger is always the easiest emotional tool to manipulate. Its simple irrationality is the asset. Regardless if puzzling or risible to others. We are amazed that our American political ‘experts’ smirk and then get stupified when the Movement (via the Republican marionette) eschews ‘logical’ purposeful activity typical of a political pluralistic entity. They appear daily with polls showing this or that. Utterly missing the point that the action – rational or not – is first for the internal primary audience. How the Movement defines for itself coherence, clarity, hierarchy and communal belonging is the alpha and omega. The essential narcissism of that drama almost by necessity will be inherently irrational for those Outside. History shows this trajectory time and again across the globe.

Third, Democrats, liberals, independents, the wholly notional, non-existent American ‘Left’ [sic] no longer think in world historical patterns. History began yesterday. Books are hawked, not read. Or merely churned out, not considered. The overall American political community collectively assumes with vacant laziness that everyone plays the same game for the same stakes. Clinton today after everything still frames things so. Amazing.

Given the above one can see why and how a Movement so recently banished to the institutional political ‘grave’ still dominates Obama, liberals, the ‘Left [sic], MSNBC, etc. (As a simple content analysis statistical project, examine airtime ratios spent by non-Movement media rebutting Movement memes, defending themselves from spurious Movement press releases from a County Supervisor in Upper Lower Mississippi, etc., etc.)

Notice how much less time they devote to ‘objective factual stories’ or re MSNBC, advancing their own purposeful agenda? Pwned.

169% pwned indeed.


4 Comments so far
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Nice post.

It makes sense…Though I suspect the ways of expressing negation matter.

I think “Barak Obama is not a radical” would be a slightly more effective response to “Barak Obama is a radical” than “Barak Obama is a radical – false”, both of which would be less effective than “Barak Obama is a centrist”.

Timing should also matter a great deal. I would expect making counterclaims immediately following the occurrence of the targeted claim to be far more effective and (particularly in cases of negation) less likely to perpetuate belief in the targeted claim.

Comment by Chryselephantine Shavenwolf

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Sounds plausible, Shavenwolf. I tend to dislike having to rely on this sort of mental trickery to make a valid point stick, but unfortunately I didn’t get a say in how the brain thinks, so if it works…

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