June 29, 2008


Your brain lies to you (Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt, June 29, 2008, NY Times)

The brain does not simply gather and stockpile information as a computer's hard drive does. Facts are stored first in the hippocampus, a structure deep in the brain about the size and shape of a fat man's curled pinkie finger. But the information does not rest there. Every time we recall it, our brain writes it down again, and during this re-storage, it is also reprocessed. In time, the fact is gradually transferred to the cerebral cortex and is separated from the context in which it was originally learned. For example, you know that the capital of California is Sacramento, but you probably don't remember how you learned it.

This phenomenon, known as source amnesia, can also lead people to forget whether a statement is true. Even when a lie is presented with a disclaimer, people often later remember it as true.

With time, this misremembering gets worse. A false statement from a noncredible source that is at first not believed can gain credibility during the months it takes to reprocess memories from short-term hippocampal storage to longer-term cortical storage. As the source is forgotten, the message and its implications gain strength. This could explain why, during the 2004 presidential campaign, it took weeks for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign against Senator John Kerry to have an effect on his standing in the polls.

Or maybe it just takes more than one ad to get the truth out?

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 29, 2008 9:23 AM
A false statement from a noncredible source that is at first not believed can gain credibility during the months it takes to reprocess memories [...]

Which is why I don't read the New York Times.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at June 29, 2008 12:31 PM

If our brains didn't lie to us, we would all go insane. (Apologies to J. Buffett.)

Posted by: ghostcat at June 29, 2008 12:39 PM

Curious how this trick of perception and congnition can come up.

Posted by: Lou Gots at June 29, 2008 2:42 PM

This could explain why NYT keeps churning out lies and distortions with star "journalists" such as Duranty, and Jayson Blair. They know that their readers would be taken in by their lies. Their self-proclaimed sophisticated readers would refuse to acknowledge being fooled, so for the sake of their own self-esteem, they would become conspirators and defend the liars.

Posted by: ic at June 29, 2008 5:54 PM

This article explains why public schools are so insidiously evil.

They abolished "rote learning" decades ago, and replaced it with seemingly contentless drivel that is really just a repetition of lies that many come to believe over time.

The efficacy of this technique is evident in the dingbat soccermom, who believes "schools are great" despite all tax increases and flat or falling scores (puny NCLB results notwithstanding)

Posted by: Bruno at June 30, 2008 7:07 AM

Rising national wealth is good education, from a mother's standpoint.

Posted by: oj at June 30, 2008 10:28 AM

"Bush lied" is a great example: I know a highly educated, intelligent person who still cites it in response to any statement on any subject relating to GWB. It seems to be a mantra of BDS.

Posted by: Genecis at June 30, 2008 12:33 PM
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