Bryan Caplan  

Fool Me Thrice, and I'll Trust You

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Amy Perfors at the Social Science Statistics Blog asks a great question: Why does repeated lying work?

It's a common truism, familiar to most people by now thanks to advertising and politics, that repeating things makes them more believable -- regardless of whether they're true or not. In fact, even if they know at the time that the information is false, people will still be more likely to believe something the more they hear it. This phenomenon, sometimes called the reiteration effect, is well-studied and well-documented.

Believing things you've heard repeatedly could make sense:

[T]he more sources there are the more unlikely it seems that all of them believe it if it's false. This strategy makes some evolutionary and statistical sense. Hearing (or experiencing) something from two independent sources (or two independent events) makes it more likely that you can generalize on them than if you only experienced it once.

However, we're in an evolutionarily novel environment:

Unfortunately, in the mass media today few sources of information are independent. Most media outlets get things from AP wire services and most people get their information from the same media outlets, so even if you hear item X in 20 completely different contexts, chances are that all 20 of them stem from the same one or two original reports. If you've ever been the source of national press yourself, you will have experienced this firsthand.

Looks like I've got another rationale for skipping commercials and ignoring current events!


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COMMENTS (5 to date)
spencer writes:

Maybe the press -- people --should learn the first law of intelligence analysis -- always seek an independent source of conformation.

dearieme writes:

Your British readers will immediately recall Mr Blair's "Education, Education, Education".

Lord writes:

The more you hear it the more you believe it, unless it conflicts with your preconceptions, in which case you reject it. So you seek out information that confirms your biases to reinforce them and avoid sources that will show their shortcomings. Comfort matters more than truth.

David Thomson writes:

“The more you hear it the more you believe it, unless it conflicts with your preconceptions, in which case you reject it”

Nope, I’m afraid that I’ve found myself starting to believe what I knew initially to be nonsense. Perhaps the mind can endure only so much until one is inclined to surrender. This is why the MSM is so destructive. Most Americans. rightfully or wrongly, spend little time on political matters. The legacy media has a disproportionate influence on their opinions.

Gerald Eddy writes:

This is a quotation from a speech given by President G W Bush.

"See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda."—Greece, N.Y., May 24, 2005

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