Monday, October 31, 2016

The Persuasive Power of Repeated Falsehoods

by Tom Jacobs
Sept. 17, 2015


Psychological studies have consistently shown that oft-repeated statements are more likely to be perceived as true, regardless of their actual veracity.

Since this “Illusory Truth Effect” was first noted in the late 1970s, it has been widely assumed that this ploy is effective only on people unfamiliar with the issue in question. Knowledge of the subject matter will lead people to dismiss the lie and distrust the liar, one might assume.

But a newly published study reports that’s not necessarily true: Even those of us with a solid grasp of the issue at hand are susceptible to this sort of misinformation.
“Reading a statement like ‘A sari is the name of the short plaid skirt worn by Scots’ increased participants’ later belief that it was true.”

“The results of two experiments suggest that people sometimes fail to bring their knowledge to bear” when evaluating a statement, a research team led by Vanderbilt University psychologist Lisa Fazio writes in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Rather, we rely on “fluency” — the ease or difficulty of comprehending a piece of information.

Statements you’ve heard many times are easier to process, and this ease leads people “to the sometimes false conclusion that they are more truthful,” the researchers write. Their key — and disheartening — revelation is that they found examples of this unfortunate dynamic “even when participants knew better.”


Repeating a falsehood won’t make it true, but it may make you think it is true.

tags: repeating lies

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