Your Gullible Brain And The Spread Of Fake News

Researchers think they've figured out why some people easily believe things that aren't true.

Can you remember how many animals of each kind Moses took onto the ark? If your answer is two, think again. The correct answer is zero. Moses didn't actually take any animals onto the ark, Noah did. If you didn't catch the error, don't worry, you're far from the first to miss it.

In fact, a recent study in Psychology Press notes that failing to register errors in questions like this happens all the time. In the study, participants were asked questions that were both "distorted" with false information, like the Moses example, and questions that had no false information. The participants answered 35% of distorted questions as if they were correct, even after they were told to watch out for false information. But most of us do know that Noah was the one who brought animals aboard the ark.

So then why isn't this prior knowledge enough to detect the error? The study calls this phenomenon "knowledge neglect," which means that prior knowledge about a topic doesn't save us from falling for semantic errors. Some have likened this to absentmindedness. Others may simply see it as being gullible, easily duped, or cheated. But scientists say there might be more to it than that.

Read More:

BBC: Why are people so incredibly gullible?

Discover Magazine: Why Does the Vaccine/Autism Controversy Live On?

Research Gate: Making The Truth Stick and The Myths Fade: Lessons from Cognitive Psychology