Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Feb. 21, 2020


Cognitive scientists have identified a number of common ways in which people avoid being gullible. But con artists are especially skillful at what social scientists call framing, telling stories in ways that appeal to the biases, beliefs and prominent desires of their targets. They use strategies that take advantage of human weaknesses.


Repetition – the hallmark of social media – creates belief

Hearing a false claim over and over can be enough to generate belief in it. A common advertising and public relations strategy is to be extremely visible by multiplying “impressions,” so people see the message everywhere.
Independent matching claims are seen as credible

Repetition alone may not be sufficient. When people try to assess whether something is true, they often look for objective reasons on which to base their belief, such as finding two similar, independent judgments about events. In my research I call this the “Rule of Two.”

On social media, users often see a claim repeatedly, posted by different friends or connections. The same information seems to come not only from everywhere but from apparently independent sources. But often there is just one source, though easy online sharing makes it appear there are more than that. That is why so many observers worry about the role that social media has assumed in politics – it can lead people to believe that false claims are true.


Research by Hugo Mercier and others, as well as my research on the theory of testaments and ongoing work with Robert C. Ryan on the “skeptical believer model,” argues that human defenses against scams and falsehoods are more robust than the entertaining tales of bridges sold and voyages to nonexistent paradises would suggest. In more ways than one, social interaction can become a “con-test.”


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