October 21, 2008

Feels true, sounds true, looks true, and heard it was true? Must be true!

Our world is crowded with information. How do we actually come to believe?

So much information that our brain could not process everything that is around us unless it applied some filters. I recently came across research showing how our brain decides what to believe and how it processes information. There is a clear pattern that emerges, one I am sure is consistent with our individual experiences.

We are more likely to believe when we are able to double check the information across different sources.

Cristiano Castelfranchi from the Institute for Cognitive Sciences and Technologies, in Roma, Italy gives us some key elements that corroborate my intuition on this in a essay titled “Reasons to Believe: Cognitive Models of Beliefs Change” - 2004.

We only believe if we have reasons to believe.

In doing so, our brain reassures itself with the logic of comparing sources and information. Compare this to the phenomena of false beliefs and rumours getting started. If two or three unrelated people give you the same information, suddenly a doubt is born that the information may actually be true. Why so? Simply because you were told so by a small number of people that seemed to believe in it...

Important steps in believing are:

  • Source Reliability (perception of independence, trustworthiness)
  • Belief Credibility (importance and plausibility = how much it matters to you and how you feel about it from the inside)
  • Existence of a convergent source confirming.

Castelfranchi also talks about what the belief brings to you in terms of achieving your goals. Does it make you feel good, satisfied, does it solve a problem etc... Naturally the brain has a tendency to take the shortest path to satisfaction and if believing is “simpler” than doubting, one may be inclined to avoid challenging the belief further.

The absence of internal contradiction is a key success

 factor to believing

If the information contradicts other existing beliefs it will either be purely and simply rejected, or submitted to a much more intense scrutinizing process.

Morality ? in trying to convince someone, going with the flow is easier than contradicting them. Leading them to analyse and realize their own belief is false is key in getting them to change their mind.

Give them reasons to believe. Get the same information to come to them from various sources they will deem reliable. Deliver the message in a way credible to them.

And remember convergent sources of information contribute to making the information credible.

Pics Credit: Truth and Falsehood by Dulhunk and Megaphone drawing by PSD

No comments: