The Illusion of Truth Effect is an interesting phenomenon and one that is often used to
manipulate us. We think we judge truth by objective, rational means. Our brains,
however, have a different strategy. Because we need to judge information so frequently, our brains use several techniques to gauge the relative "truthiness"
of what we hear or see. Our brains use
statistics, familiarity, and connection.
young as infants give evidence of using statistics to learn. Infant brains keep
track of how often they hear a sound in order to determine if
that sound is important to language. We continue with this as we grow older,
but we apply it to bigger chunks of language. The more often we hear something
the more likely we are to determine it is true because our brains apply more
importance to it. This works great while learning the phonemes of language; not
so great when determining the accuracy of something posted on social media.
Once we have
heard something many times, even if we haven’t paid close attention to it, we
begin to see it as familiar. How many of us can sing commercial jingles from
our childhood? We did not study these commercials, we simply heard them and
now they are familiar. Chances are good we see the products that were
represented by these jingles as positive, too.
technique used by our brains is connection. If what we hear is connected to
something else we believe, then we are more likely to accept it as true even if
at first glance it seems a bit unlikely. This is how political campaigns get us
to believe horrible things about an opponent. The message going out is
repeated in many forms and through many platforms and is just one step closer
to evil than what you already accept because of your strong political beliefs. In
some cases, even seeing hard evidence that something is NOT true does little to
change a person’s mind. To our brains, what is repeated, familiar, and connected somehow must
Look at the
use of “fake news” from both sides of the political spectrum. Fake news begins
as a twist of the truth but morphs into what we believe. Then it is easy to
assume that anything that does not agree with our new belief must then be “fake
news.” It is an insidious process and it is effective in bringing in the vote
and keeping support.
But, if you
are like me, this would not happen to you because we are rational beings who
always check sources and information. Certainly it is good that we do, however,
the effect of the Illusion of Truth Effect is to activate emotions that discourage us from
thinking rationally. The trick is to activate fear or anger. These emotions
urge a quick and impulsive response and they serve to make us even surer that
the information is true.
wants us to be afraid and angry. This makes us so much easier to work with. And
not to say that politicians are devils (I don’t want to start my own fake news
campaign) but when we are afraid or angry we are much easier for campaign
messages to manipulate.
Here is a good rule of thumb: if what you read makes you feel strong emotions be wary.
Except for cute bunny videos. You can never go wrong with cute bunny videos.
For the word of the
LORD is upright, and all His work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and
justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.
By the word of the LORD
the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host. Psalm
individuals, Christians are not exempt from the effects of truth illusion, but
we do have an effective weapon. We know that real, solid, dependable,
non-manipulating truth is found in God’s word. This is our first defense.
Let all the earth fear
the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him!
For He spoke and it
came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm.
The LORD brings the
counsel of the nations to nothing; He frustrates the plans of the peoples.
The counsel of the LORD
stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations.
defense is that we know we can give our fears and anger to God. He has control
over our world, He has complete power, and He can overcome our emotional
response and replace it with a healthy fear of Him. He does not tell us to
ignore the things in the world that are wrong, the things that make us angry.
He simply tells us He is in charge and will direct our righteous path.
Our soul waits for the
LORD; He is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in Him, because we
trust in His holy name.
Let Your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in
You. Psalm 33:20-22
Let God's steadfast love be what is familiar. It's a great place to be. It is safe; it is faithful; it is true.