by clicking the "Next" arrow.
by clicking on the page.
the page around when zoomed in by dragging it.
the zoom using the slider when zoomed-in.
by clicking on the zoomed-in page.
by entering text in the search field, and select "This Issue" or "All Issues"
by clicking on thumbnails to select pages, and then press the print button.
displays sections with thumbnails and descriptions.
displays a slider of thumbnails. Click on a page to jump.
allows you to browse the full archive.
about your subscription?
Mindful : October 2015
Even the most ridiculous rumors can cling in our minds— despite what the proof says. Sharon Begley tells us why. Isn’t it scandalous that Barack Obama, 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 false- hoods, 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 elec- tion 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 The Stickiness of Misinformation 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-flat- tering 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,” psy- chologist 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 assum- ing 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 informa- tion through the filter of our preexist- ing worldview. Think of the process as akin to filing papers. If a new doc- ument arrives and fits the contents → 18 mindful October 2015 brain science Illustration by Sébastien Thibault 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.