A new report in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest finds that it is cognitively easier for minds to trust a lie if it supports existing convictions than it is to reject information that requires energy to assess.
For the report, researchers from Australia and the United States examined the origins and dissemination of misinformation, as well as the cognitive factors that make individuals resist corrections. Specifically, they examined case studies involving the spread and persistent nature of misinformation.
The unfounded belief that vaccines cause autism is among those case studies. The researchers note that facts do not support the link between autism and vaccines. Nonetheless, some parents of autistic children are convinced that vaccines caused the condition.
"[I]t's so good, it should be true. And they don't have an alternative that would completely fit it so well," says report author and University of Michigan professor Colleen Seifert. Without an alternative to fill the "causal hole," Seifert says parents will cling to that belief.
The researchers conclude that, "For laypeople, the magnitude of uncertainty does not matter much as long as it is believed to be meaningful" (Briggs, "The Body Odd," NBC News, 10/3; Lewandowsky et al., Psychological Science in the Public Interest, December 2012).
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