How to fight back against the backfire effect

The final show in my three-part series about the pitfalls associated with trying to debunk myths, battle fake news, and correct misinformation is up. In this episode I interview scientists who have great advice on how to both avoid the backfire effect and eventually overcome it.

If you ask a social scientist familiar with motivated reasoning and the backfire effect if there is any hope to ever reach people who refuse to accept facts – is there any chance to change people’s minds with evidence, reason, or scientific consensus – they will usually point you to a 2010 paper titled: “The Affective Tipping Point: Do Motivated Reasoners ever ‘Get It’?”

Like most of us, political scientists David P. Redlawsk, Andrew J.W. Civettini, and Karen M. Emmerson wondered if, when confronted with challenges to their erroneous beliefs, do the people who resist efforts at correction ever come around, or are we just causing more harm than good by trusting in facts instead of using some time-tested technique from the emotional manipulation toolkit?

To test this, Redlawsk and his team created a mock presidential election in which people would gradually learn more and more terrible things about their preferred virtual candidates from a virtual news media. Unbeknownst to the subjects, the news stories they read included a precise mix of negative information about their chosen candidates so the effect of those messages could be measured as the negativity increased in intensity.

The scientists thought that surely, at some point, after a person had chosen one candidate over another, a constant flow of negative information about that person would persuade them to reconsider their choices. Read the rest

How motivated skepticism strengthens incorrect beliefs

This is part two in my "The Backfire Effect" series. This one focuses on motivated reasoning, specifically something called motivated skepticism. In addition, it features interviews with the scientists who coined the backfire effect term itself and who have extended their original research outside of politics and into health issues.

By now you’ve likely heard of confirmation bias. As a citizen of the internet the influence of this cognitive tendency is constant, and its allure is pervasive.

In short, when you have a hunch that you might already understand something, but don’t know for sure, you tend to go searching for information that will confirm your suspicions.

When you find that inevitable confirmation, satisfied you were correct all along, you stop searching. In some circles, the mental signal to end exploration once you feel like your position has sufficient external support is referred to as the wonderfully wordy “makes sense stopping rule” which basically states that once you believe you’ve made sense of something, you go about your business satisfied that you need not continue your efforts. In other words, just feeling correct is enough to stop your pursuit of new knowledge. We basically had to invent science to stop ourselves from trying to solve problems by thinking in this way.

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This episode is sponsored by The Great Courses Plus. Get unlimited access to a huge library of The Great Courses lecture series on many fascinating subjects. Start FOR FREE with Your Deceptive Mind taught by neurologist Steven Novella. Read the rest

The neuroscience of changing your mind

This is the first of three You Are Not So Smart episodes about the "backfire effect." In it, I interview a team of neuroscientists who put people in a brain scanner and then challenged their beliefs, some political and some not, with counter-evidence and then compared which brain regions lit up for which beliefs. The crazy takeaway was that for political beliefs, but not for others, people seemed to react as if their very bodies were being threatened by the challenging evidence.

We don’t treat all of our beliefs the same.

If you learn that the Great Wall of China isn’t the only man-made object visible from space, and that, in fact, it’s actually very difficult to see the Wall compared to other landmarks, you update your model of reality without much fuss. Some misconceptions we give up readily, replacing them with better information when alerted to our ignorance.

For others constructs though, for your most cherished beliefs about things like climate change or vaccines or Republicans, instead of changing your mind in the face of challenging evidence or compelling counterarguments, you resist. Not only do you fight belief change for some things and not others, but if you successfully deflect such attacks, your challenged beliefs then grow stronger.

The research shows that when a strong-yet-erroneous belief is challenged, yes, you might experience some temporary weakening of your convictions, some softening of your certainty, but most people rebound and not only reassert their original belief at its original strength, but go beyond that and dig in their heels, deepening their resolve over the long run. Read the rest

Bruce Sterling on dieselpunk, alternate history, fascism and the current political moment

In November, Bruce Sterling published "Pirate Utopia," a dieselpunk novella set in the real, historical, bizarre moment in which the city of Fiume became an autonomous region run by artists and revolutionaries, whose philosophies ran the gamut from fascism to anarcho-syndicalism to socialism. Read the rest

Listen: interview with Mad Magazine's Al Jaffee: 'the longest working cartoonist in history'

Brian from the Recommend if You Like podcast sez, "For episode 200 (MP3), we sat down for a 90 minute interview with Mad Magazine's Al Jaffee, who, at the age of 95 holds the title of 'the longest working cartoonist in history.'" Read the rest

Pitch Blak Brass Band: hip-hop/brass with a lot of funk and a lot of beat

This week's Judge John Hodgman podcast is a live show recorded in Brooklyn, with guest music from the Pitch Blak Brass Band, whose music was so fantastically good that I immediately purchased their debut album, You See Us, and I am listening to it right now and loving it. Read the rest

Marina Abramović and Kim Stanley Robinson perform "The Hard Problem," a performance-art podcast

"The Hard Problem" is a new episode of the Into The Impossible podcast from the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination: it features the outcome of a collaboration between legendary performance artist Marina Abramović (previously) and environmentalist science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson (previously): a short story about an interstellar journey incorporating elements of Robinson's outstanding 2015 novel Aurora -- a novel that is pitiless in its insistence on rigor in our thinking about the problems of living in space and on other planets.

90 minutes of the year's best standup comedy albums

The end-of-year episode of Jesse Thorn's Bullseye podcast (MP3) highlights the funniest bits from 2016's best standup comedy albums, an hour and a half of seriously funny stuff that I've enjoyed more than any other podcast I've listened to this week. It's been a bleak 2016, and this is a tonic. Read the rest

Listen: Hugo-winner Nnedi Okorafor's story, Spider the Artist

Tony from Starshipsofa writes, "StarShipSofa is very proud to have Hugo winning author Nnedi Okorafor on this week's show (MP3) with her story 'Spider the Artist,' first published in the anthology Seeds of Change. Nnedi Okorafor is the Hugo winning novelist of Nigeria-based science fiction, fantasy and magical realism for both children and adults. The narration is by Aminat Badara." Read the rest

New Podcast: Twice Removed

My friend, author A.J. Jacobs has a new podcast on Gimlet Media called Twice Removed. I listened to the premiere episode and I love it. Here's how A.J. describes it: "We take a notable person (e.g. Dan Savage) and then figure out how they're related to one of their heroes. And then we introduce them, live in the studio. Along the way, we talk about their most interesting shared ancestors (the first episode features a piece on Warren G Harding's illegitimate daughter, and another on Chicago gangsters). Of course, the big point is that we're all related and hopefully can get out of this crazy tribal mindset that has descended on us again!"

Previously:

Author A.J. Jacob's favorite tools

Gweek podcast 137: The Horrors of Ancient Medicine

Gweek podcast 128: 3D Printed, Science-Based, Mickey Mouse Color Sundays

http://boingboing.net/2013/06/24/gweek-100-a-j-jacobs-extrem.html

Crowdsourced advice with author A.J. Jacobs

Gweek 047: Drop Dead Healthy Read the rest

Listen: Tim Wu on The Attention Merchants

Tim Wu's book The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads (review) was one of the best books I read in 2016; on Rick Kleffel's Narrative Species podcast, Wu discusses the book (MP3) covering depth that he couldn't fit between the covers. Read the rest

Free audiobook of Car Wars, my self-driving car/crypto back-door apocalypse story

Last month, Melbourne's Deakin University published Car Wars, a short story I wrote to inspire thinking and discussion about the engineering ethics questions in self-driving car design, moving beyond the trite and largely irrelevant trolley problem. Read the rest

Podcasts, positivism and "explainerism"

David A Banks argues that the boom in NPR explainer podcasts -- Radiolab, Note to Self, Hidden Brain, Freakonomics Radio and others -- are ideologically bankrupt, presenting individual, often neurological explanations for social phenomena -- rather than turning to the traditional social science accounts of these issues, so that the weird, broken, messed up things in our world are the result of our human "hardwiring" rather than the outgrowth of policies and ideology. Read the rest

Everything is a Remix, including Star Wars, and that's how I became a writer

Kirby Ferguson, who created the remarkable Everything is a Remix series, has a new podcast hosted by the Recreate Coalition called Copy This and he hosted me on the debut episode (MP3) where we talked about copying, creativity, artists, and the future of the internet (as you might expect!). Read the rest

Kodachrome, Pt. 2

This week on HOME: Stories From L.A.:

Who were we? How did we live, and what did it look like? The vast archive of castoff slides captures, in vivid colors, images of the American family at midcentury. But the stories that go with the pictures are most often lost, and we’re left to create our own, and reflect on millions of conscious decisions to untie the knot of memory.

HOME is a member of the Boing Boing Podcast Network. If you like what you hear, please take a second to leave the show a rating and/or review at the iTunes Store. It's a little thing that means a lot, so thanks. And don't forget to subscribe, at any of the usual places:

iTunes | Android | Email | Google Play | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS Read the rest

Questioning the nature of reality with cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman

Back in the early 1900s, the German biologist Jakob Johann Baron von Uexküll couldn’t shake the implication that the inner lives of animals like jellyfish and sea urchins must be radically different from those of humans.

Uexküll was fascinated by how meaty, squishy nervous systems gave rise to perception. Noting that the sense organs of sea creatures and arachnids could perceive things that ours could not, he realized that giant portions of reality must therefore be missing from their subjective experiences, which suggested that the same was true of us. In other words, most ticks can’t enjoy an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical because, among other reasons, they don’t have eyes. On the other hand, unlike ticks, most humans can’t smell butyric acid wafting on the breeze, and so no matter where you sit in the audience, smell isn’t an essential (or intended) element of a Broadway performance of Cats.

Uexküll imagined that each animal’s subjective experience was confined to a private sensory world he called an umwelt. Each animal’s umwelt was different, he said, distinctive from that of another animal in the same environment, and each therefore was tuned to take in only a small portion of the total picture. Not that any animal would likely know that, which was Uexküll’s other big idea. Because no organism can perceive the totality of objective reality, each animal likely assumes that what it can perceive is all that can be perceived. Each umwelt is a private universe, fitted to its niche, and the subjective experiences of all of Earth’s creatures are like a sea filled with a panoply of bounded virtual realities floating past one another, each unaware that it is unaware. Read the rest

Global trumpism: how India's brutal leader manufactures reality with trumped-up "polls"

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is an authoritarian war criminal who is part of the worldwide surge of trumpist leaders and hopefuls, including Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte; Hungary's Viktor Orbán; Russia's Vladimir Putin; South Korea's Park Geun-hye; France's Marine Le Pen; the UK's Nigel Farage, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and others -- bound together by xenophobia, a lack of transparency, violent suppression of opposition, and savvy use of the internet. Read the rest

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