Inner Misinformation: The Illusory truth effect and why we believe our own inner critic
If you want to talk to yourself more effectively, read on:
When discussing propaganda, the term “misinformation” often comes up. But what exactly does misinformation mean? Misinformation refers to the dissemination of false or misleading information. In today’s social media-driven world, the spread of misinformation is more prevalent than ever.
One key factor contributing to misinformation is a cognitive phenomenon called the illusory truth effect, which was identified in a study in 1977 by researchers Lynn Hasher, David Goldstein, and Thomas Toppino. This cognitive bias occurs when we come to believe something simply because it has been repeated multiple times, regardless of whether it is true or not.
This technique is commonly employed by politicians and marketers alike to influence public opinion. In fact, our past experiences and beliefs shape the way we interpret the world, which may not always align with our best interests.
Just like we influence ourselves, we also spread misinformation to ourselves. Unfortunately, the very same mechanisms that get us to believe the misinformation are the ones that get us to believe our inner misinformation too. The illusory truth effect happens with what we repeat to ourselves over and over again.
For years, people have believed in the power of self-affirmation mantras to bring about positive change. To this day, there are plenty of people who swear by mantras and share how it has changed their life. But it doesn’t always work. Why? The trick here is that as you repeat the mantra, it is very likely that you continue the conversation or say something to yourself ABOUT the mantra. So, if you repeat ‘I am fit. I am healthy,’ you’re possibly also repeating, ‘But actually no, I’m not’ because you don’t believe it.
So, while you repeat the mantra, you repeat the belief that you’re not, and so this prevents you from simply buying into the positive phrase. This is because we have a natural skeptical mindset to positivity. Our brains experience a negativity bias which orients our attention on what could go wrong as opposed to what you want to be true.
So, what is the solution? How do you use this knowledge to benefit you? Well, there are three strategies I recommend.
Identify when the negative things you are saying to yourself are simply a result of this process. So, become aware of what your critical inner voice suggests to you and ask yourself the question:
Is this actually accurate, or is it just another tired old quote I’ve been using far too often?
When repeating something positive to yourself, plan it out beforehand. Be clever with the phrasing you use. Instead of saying, ‘I am fit. I am healthy’, say ‘The more I exercise, eat and sleep right, the fitter and healthier I am’. The key is you are training your mind to imagine yourself over and over again as fit and healthy, and you are. You are doing so in a way that you can’t challenge.
Whenever you find yourself talking negatively to yourself OR limiting yourself, start using the words ‘YET’ or ‘SOMETIMES, BUT’. For instance, if you notice yourself saying, ‘I just haven’t got what it takes’ say, ‘I just haven’t got what it takes yet’. This starts to transform the meaning of the sentence in a way that your brain can’t challenge it. Or instead of ‘I really mess things up,’ say, ‘I really mess things up sometimes, but other times I do okay’. When you use but, your brain naturally provides you with a way to change the direction of the sentence.
By understanding the illusory truth effect and how it influences our thoughts, we can start mastering our minds more effectively and, ultimately, start to believe better.
Until the next time,