Illusory Truth Effect

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The illusory truth effect can be seen when familiar statements are quicker to be accepted as true than unfamiliar statements (1). The wiki claims that it was “first identified in a 1977 study at Villanova University and Temple University” (2). The concept behind the existence of this effect is that people rely more on whether information conforms, or “feels right”, with their preconceived notions of the world and rely less on whether or not the information is factually correct. There is an emphasis on the matter of how much the information has been repeated. The effect can be seen when information that has been observed on more occasions is more likely to be accepted as true information than the information which has been observed on less occasions. The 1977 study was repeated in 1989 and had similar results.

This effect reminds me of a famous quote by Adolf Hitler (1889-1945); “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” Hitler has another, less famous, quote found in his book, ‘Mein Kampf’; “Slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea”. The effects of repetition were not alien to Hitler and were being employed in a plethora of arenas at that time. Bertrand Russell recognizes the effects of repetition in his book, ‘Impact of Science on Society’.

The illusory truth effect, to reiterate, is that it refers specifically to the likelihood of information previously heard to be accepted as true than information that has not been heard. Three people in 1997 linked the illusory effect to be a subset of the hindsight bias. I think that the illusory effect is also closely related to the Semmelweis effect (4).

According to E. Dreyfuss, there was a study in 2015 which showed that “familiarity can overpower rationality” and that one’s beliefs may be affected by “repetitively hearing that a certain fact is wrong”. Processing fluency is the ease with which information is processed. Retrieval fluency is the ease with which information can be retrieved from memory. The 2015 study tested the degree of the illusory truth effect on people who initially knew the correct information but were convinced that the correct information was incorrect through being exposed to false information repeated.

‘Knowledge Does Not Protect Against Illusory Truth’ (5) may be an informative article that you’ll enjoy.

My advice; keep practicing thinking well and avoid perpetuating false information.

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