In the biblical story, what was Jonah swallowed by?
How many animals of each kind did Moses take on the Ark?
If you answered whale and two, know that most people do… even though they are well aware that, according to the Bible, Noah, not Moses, built the ark. Psychologists call this the Moses Illusion. Well-studied since the 1980s, this cognitive snafu is just one example of how we are bad at spotting factual errors. Even when we know the correct information, we often fail to notice errors--and will even go on to use that incorrect information in other situations. (Tweet it!)
Writing in The Washington Post psychologist Lisa Fazio explains that while a glaring error would be spotted by most (e.g. “Nixon built the ark”), more subtle pieces of misinformation are likely to slip by. This is because: 1) we have a general bias to believe things are true; and 2) we tend to go with the flow and accept “good enough” information as long as it’s close enough to the correct information.
As Fazio writes, “Detecting and correcting false information is difficult work and requires fighting against the ways our brains like to process information. Critical thinking alone will not save us. Our psychological quirks put us at risk of falling for misinformation, disinformation and propaganda.” We cannot overestimate the value of professional fact-checkers who ferret out incorrect information in public view, she adds. “They are one of our best hopes for zeroing in on errors and correcting them, before the rest of us read or hear the false information and incorporate it into what we know of the world.”
Can you think of a time when you were misled by misinformation, and perhaps even passed it on? Why do you think you were taken in, and how did you learn the truth? To join the conversation, click "comments" above.
If you would like to read more about creating a habit around masterful communication, check out our book: Be Quiet, Be Heard: The Paradox of Persuasion