Why we are so susceptible to fake news and how to defend against it

on 16 August 2018
Bobby Darin and confirmation bias

I remember from the movie, Beyond The Sea (the Bobby Darin story), the part when his career was flagging and he didn't know what to do, when his wife casually remarked, “people hear what they see.” In response, Darin successfully changed his presentation and his career! What are you hearing . . . 

We look for what we want to see!

Not only do we hear what we see, but we also see what we hear and nothing affects our life more than our own self-talk. The processor of the phenomenon that determines what we see (as in, what our brain is looking for in the world outside), is called confirmation bias. This is something that is always mentioned to my clients, during our sessions. We all have beliefs and our brain looks for evidence to support them, of course, it always finds what it is looking for, simply because it will very often ignore evidence to the contrary.

One of the things that we all do, usually every day and sometimes more frequently than that, is to use generalisations, e.g. "all the time, never, everyone, he always, he never," etc. The problem with the inappropriate use of generalisations, is, that they have the ability to distort reality (we frequently distort language too). This allows us to hold onto untruths, illusions, maybe even hallucinations or it, similarly disallows us to update changes, new facts, real evidence etc.

In a real-world situation, an example of this plays out when someone makes real changes to the way they do something, let's say changing a behaviour that is seriously affecting their relationship, but their partner is stuck in confirmation bias mode or they are dogged by their overpowering use of generalisations; they just don't see the changes, they just cannot update their confirmation bias. This often leads to the partner making the changes giving up, saying, "what's the use?"

Hypnotherapy is an excellent tool for helping people to update their worldview and, being able to keep on updating it. After all, life is constantly changing, and with the way in which newspapers, TV and social media are reporting news and the ease with which fake news is being spread, we really do need all the help we can get. 

Hypnotherapy, the master plan to a better and more realistic life! 

My objective here is to help people understand how and why we become illogically trapped into emotional experiences that may actually be happening but for reasons different to what we would imagine! If you want to know more about how Hypnotherapy can help you; why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation?

For more information on the Free Consultation - Go Here Or, to book your Free Consultation today, you can do so here

The Research: 

Thought processes and belief systems that people develop early in life to help protect against the anxiety and stress of an uncertain world may help explain why some individuals fall victim to what has come to be known as fake news, but psychologists can offer some strategies to defend against it, according to a series of presentations at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.

"At its core is the need for the brain to receive confirming information that harmonises with an individual's existing views and beliefs," said Mark Whitmore, PhD, assistant professor of management and information systems at Kent State University's College of Business Administration. "In fact, one could say the brain is hardwired to accept, reject, misremember or distort information based on whether it is viewed as accepting of or threatening to existing beliefs."

The key to people's accepting fake news as true, despite evidence to the contrary, is a phenomenon known as confirmation bias, or the tendency for people to seek and accept information that confirms their existing beliefs while rejecting or ignoring that which contradicts those beliefs, he said.

Many of these beliefs and biases are formed early in life when children begin to distinguish between fantasy and reality, according to Eve Whitmore, PhD, a developmental psychologist with Western Reserve Psychological Associates in Stow, Ohio, who also presented at the session. Some of these beliefs can be based on fantasy, and that can lead to what she calls nonsensical thinking.

"From the beginning, parents reinforce to their children the skill of pretending in order to cope with the realities inherent in culture and society," she said. "Children's learning about make-believe and mastery of it becomes the basis for more complex forms of self-deception and illusion into adulthood."

Parents commonly encourage young children to engage in pretend play. Through this pretend play, children often practise little life scenarios, like playing house, that help to reinforce cultural norms and beliefs and aid in assimilation as they age. The flip side is that children also learn that sometimes it's OK to make believe things are true, even though they know they are not, according to Eve Whitmore.

In adolescence, people develop critical thinking skills and some begin to question what they were taught as children, perhaps religious beliefs or even the belief that authority figures such as parents or government leaders are always right. But going against one's parents' beliefs can cause friction within the family, and, despite evidence to the contrary, some are willing to rationalise those false beliefs in order to avoid upsetting their parents, she said.

It may begin as a conscious decision, but as rationalisation piles on top of rationalisation over the years, these processes can become unconscious. As people reach adulthood, many of these false beliefs and biases formed as children, instead of being given a good critical examination, are simply accepted and continue to influence how a person perceives his or her world, according to Mark Whitmore.

"In this way, childhood beliefs persevere throughout a person's life and serve as a framework for processing information in adulthood," he said. "In attempting to confirm preconceived ideas, a person may resort to both fiction and reality in order to preserve these beliefs."

The rise of the internet and social media has only compounded the problem of fake news, according to Mark Whitmore, upending the traditional news model where an individual receives information from a small number of outlets.

"In today's media environment, the channels are multiple, and the messages are often simultaneous and contradictory," he said. "The receiver is often faced with paradoxical and seemingly absurd messages. It becomes easier to cling to a simple fiction than a complicated reality."

Psychology offers a few evidence-based strategies for defending against the pull of fake news, according to Mark Whitmore. One key to avoiding the pull of confirmation bias is reducing the anxiety that makes it so appealing.

"One positive defence strategy is humour. Watching a late-night comedy or political satire, while not actually altering or changing the source of the stressor, can help reduce the stress and anxiety associated with it," he said. "Another is sublimation, where you channel your negative feelings into something positive, such as running for office, marching in a protest or volunteering for a social cause."

He also recommends that people cultivate an open mind by deliberately exposing themselves to different points of view. This can help them moderate their viewpoints and make them less extreme, he said.

Critical thinking is also key. People must learn to question what they are told and this should begin in childhood, said Mark Whitmore.

"Developing a greater degree of scepticism in children, by encouraging them to ask why and to question, diminishes confirmation bias," he said. "All of these strategies have substantial research supporting their beneficial effects."

Story Source:

Materials provided by the American Psychological AssociationNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Source

American Psychological Association. "Why we're susceptible to fake news, how to defend against it: Thinking developed in childhood makes people vulnerable, researchers say." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 August 2018. <>.