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Podcast Episodes

What is behavioral economics? Why does it matter to you?

337. The Role of Critical Thinking in Resisting Misinformation – Sander van der Linden

In this episode of The Brainy Business podcast, social psychologist and Director of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab, Sander van der Linden, joins host Melina Palmer to discuss the role of critical thinking and emotions in resisting misinformation. Sander’s extensive research on the influence of repetition and the illusory truth effect make him a trusted authority on the subject. The conversation serves as a valuable resource for critical thinkers concerned about misinformation in today’s digital landscape. 

Van der Linden explains how repetition can lead people to question their own knowledge and accept false information as true, highlighting the illusory truth effect. He also discusses the conjunction fallacy and the self-sealing belief system of conspiracy theorists. The episode delves into the concept of inoculation as a strategy to combat misinformation, providing insights on how to build cognitive antibodies to resist manipulation. Overall, the conversation offers practical tips and insights for improving critical thinking skills and navigating the complex world of misinformation.

In this episode:

  • Gain a deeper understanding of the pervasive impact of misinformation in today’s society.
  • Discover how the illusory truth effect influences belief formation and the way we perceive information.
  • Explore the complexity of conspiracy theories and the conjunction fallacy, and how they can contribute to the spread of misinformation.
  • Learn about the powerful strategy of inoculation as a means to combat misinformation and manipulation.
  • Understand the crucial role that critical thinking and emotions play in resisting misinformation and making informed decisions.
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HERE'S A 2 MINUTE TIP.

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SHOW NOTES:

00:00:00 – Introduction,
Sander is a professor of Social Psychology at the University of Cambridge. He studies how people process misinformation and how to combat its spread. He shares his expertise with governments, public health authorities, and social media companies.

00:04:41 – The challenges of researching historical accounts
Sander discusses the difficulties of researching historical accounts for his book. He had to navigate competing historical viewpoints and verify the accuracy of information. He shares the example of a disputed document regarding Mark Antony’s will as an example of the challenges faced in historical research.

00:09:01 – Writing process and structure of the book
Sander talks about his writing process and the structure of the book. He waited until he had enough data and case studies before starting. Once he had the general structure and outline, he began filling in the individual chapters. Sander emphasizes the importance of having a clear direction before starting to write.

00:12:40 – The impact of misinformation on decision-making
Sander explains how misinformation can influence decision-making. He discusses the cognitive biases that help our minds accept false information.

00:15:47 – Illusory Truth Effect and Repetition,
Repetition of false information can lead people to believe it, even if they have prior knowledge that contradicts it. This is known as the illusory truth effect. Examples include misattributing the ark to Moses instead of Noah, and the power of the “big lie” technique used by Hitler.

00:18:10 – Continued Influence of Misinformation,
Misinformation can persist and strengthen over time, making it difficult to correct. The continued influence of misinformation is similar to how memories are connected in a social network. Once a false belief is established, it can be challenging to change it, as seen with the autism vaccination link myth.

00:19:49 – Conjunction Fallacy and Conspiracy Theories,
The conjunction fallacy refers to the tendency to believe that multiple conspiracy theories are more likely to be true than a single one. People often endorse multiple conspiracy theories simultaneously, even if they are mutually exclusive. This is due to a self-sealing belief system where one theory serves as evidence for another.

00:25:46 – Visual Misinformation and Manipulated Images,
Visual misinformation is prevalent and often underestimated. Manipulated images enhance fluency and make information seem more true. Examples include fake images of dolphins in the canals of Venice during the pandemic. It is challenging to correct false beliefs once they have been visualized.

00:31:28 – Introduction to Inoculation,
Inoculation is about exposing people to a weakened dose of misinformation and refuting it in advance. It builds cognitive antibodies to help resist manipulation. The mind can be vaccinated against manipulation just as the body can be vaccinated against viruses.

00:32:22 – Building Resistance in the Brain,
The brain needs exposure to deception and manipulation to understand their tactics and become resistant. Micro doses of misinformation help the brain develop cognitive antibodies. This research has been conducted for over a decade.

00:34:27 – Examples of Inoculation Techniques,
Inoculation can be done on a single myth basis or by targeting specific tactics used in manipulation. For example, a weakened dose could be created by debunking a petition with false signatures. Inoculation helps protect people against misinformation and strengthens their perception of the scientific consensus.

00:37:48 – Scaling Inoculation,
Inoculation can be scaled by targeting underlying tactics that are frequently used in a given domain or topic. Techniques like casting doubt on scientific consensus or using fear mongering can be weakened and exposed to help people resist manipulation. Short videos on platforms like YouTube can be used to reach a larger audience.

00:39:57 – Using Pop Culture as Weakened Doses,
Popular culture references like Star Wars or South Park can be used as weakened doses to help people spot manipulation techniques. By using non-political examples, it becomes easier to get bipartisan agreement and educate people on logical fallacies.

00:47:31 – Tips for Spotting Misinformation,
Sander recommends questioning what we see, not blindly sharing information, and not being fooled by pictures or social proof. His book, Foolproof, provides more tips and insights for spotting fake news. By applying the strategies and techniques outlined in the book, readers can become less vulnerable to misinformation.

00:48:48 –  Conclusion,
Melina’s top insights from the conversation. What stuck with you while listening to the episode? What are you going to try? Come share it with Melina on social media — you’ll find her as @thebrainybiz everywhere and as Melina Palmer on LinkedIn.

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