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Here's why the truth really is subjective, according to science

Great, now we can’t trust anything.

JOSH HRALA
28 JUL 2016
 

In a world of constant information overload, how do we know what's true, and what isn't? How do we know who to believe? Well, as the latest episode of Veritasium explains, we probably don't, because truth itself is an illusion.

 

Yep, hold onto your hats, because your brain is actually way easier to trick into believing something's true than you might like to admit.

As Derek Muller explains in the video above, this is all down to something called 'cognitive ease' which is a fancy way to describe how hard your brain has to work to perceive information.

Basically, the easier your brain is working, the more likely it is to believe something's true. 

Because of that, scientists have shown that repetition can cause people believe certain things that aren't true at all.

For example, people who have just the phrase "the body temperature of a chicken" repeated to them over and over again are more likely to judge as true the statement "the body temperature of a chicken is 34 degrees Celsius" – when it's not, it's actually close to 41 degrees Celsius.

That might sound like something we just made up, but it was a real experiment run by real scientists, and it showed that the things we're exposed to constantly feel more true.

 

And cognitive ease actually plays a huge role in our everyday lives. 

This means that common sense facts create a strong feeling of cognitive ease. For example, the statement 'fire is hot' doesn't cause your brain to melt because you know it's a fundamental truth that fire is hot.

But, if you’ve never touched an open flame (please don’t) couldn’t it be possible that everyone saying 'fire is hot' simply made you believe it?

In short, yes.

According to Derek over at Veritasium, repetition can cause cognitive ease even when there shouldn’t be any. In other words, the more familiar you are with a stimulus, the more cognitive ease you experience and the more likely you are to think things are true – even if they're definitely not.

One of the best examples of cognitive ease exploitation is advertising where marketers frequently run ads over and over again until people view them in a familiar way, leading to some people actually buying a product.

It could also help explain why the Kardashians are famous. It’s likely because people can’t turn on their TVs or run through their social media accounts without hearing something about them, making them feel familiar and, therefore, famous.

If the entire media stopped writing and producing content involving the Kardashians, their fame would drop instantly, because without that repetition there is no reminder of their existence for us to feel familiar with.

The video doesn’t stop there, though, because cognitive ease can also be produced by a number of different factors, from how legible text appears to how high of a contrast a photo is (which is why Instagram filters are so popular, by the way).

Social media also plays a big role in how we perceive the 'truth'.

Check out the video above for a more in-depth view of cognitive ease and try to not pull your hair out thinking about the fact that every bit of media you consume is actually lying to you. 

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