Distraction makes beliefs stickier

In a previous post on the pig-headed brain, I wrote about how we tend to accept things as true as a matter of course when we first hear them. Our brains want to save the energy of questioning everything when they it is tough enough to piece all the info given together. The hope is that reflecting on what has a been said later on will help us sift through what is true or not.  Can we rely on this?

 Apparently not if we are multitasking.

If your brain is too busy with other things to put the necessary legwork in to reject a doozy, then you’re stuck with a belief that you would normally find dubious.  In one study, volunteers read from a computer screen series of statements about a criminal defendant (ex. the robber had a gun). Some of the statements were false. The volunteers knew exactly which ones they were, because they appeared in a different color of text.  For some of the volunteers, the untrue statements they were shown were designed to make the crime more heinous. For others, the false testimony made the crime seems more forgivable. At the same time the volunteers were reading the statements, a string of digits marched across the computer screen. Some of the volunteers had to push a button whenever they saw the digit “5”. Banal though this may seem, doing this uses up quite a lot of mental resources. This meant that these volunteers had less brainpower available to mentally switch the labeling of the false statements from the default “true” or “false”.

Misremembering affected how long they thought the criminal should serve in prison. THe distracted volunteers tended to sentence him to prison for twice as long as indistracted ones.  (FINE)


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2 Responses to “Distraction makes beliefs stickier”

  1. Reena Says:

    What if a person just automatically assumes everything they hear is a lie or exaggerated at best?



  2. diddly Says:

    It takes a lot of mental energy to do that, and it really is a sign of mental illness if you question everything all the time. It can turn into psychosis, specifically paranoia. People who have been severely abused often have had to take on this approach to life to survive their abuse, but if they can’t let the chronic distrust go, it drains them, and they get depressed.


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