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The Media

Why Myths Persist 988

lottameez recommends an article in the Washington Post about recent research into the persistence of myths. In short: once a myth has been put out there (e.g., "Saddam Hussein plotted the 9/11 attacks"), denying it can paradoxically reinforce its staying power. Ignoring it doesn't work either — a claim that is unchallenged gains the ring of truth. Over time, "negation tags" fall out of memory: "Saddam didn't plan 9/11" becomes "Saddam planned 9/11." From the article: "The conventional response to myths and urban legends is to counter bad information with accurate information. But the new psychological studies show that denials and clarifications, for all their intuitive appeal, can paradoxically contribute to the resiliency of popular myths... The research is painting a broad new understanding of how the mind works. Contrary to the conventional notion that people absorb information in a deliberate manner, the studies show that the brain uses subconscious 'rules of thumb' that can bias it into thinking that false information is true. Clever manipulators can take advantage of this tendency."

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