Bias number 31 is known as the continued influence effect. This cognitive bias suggests that falsehoods of beliefs or information persist in our thinking, even when we know them to be untrue.
Common beliefs that fall in this category include superstitions and old wives’ tales. Once a belief is internalised and entrenched, it is difficult to shift, despite evidence to the contrary.
How does this impact you? You may believe you are a perfectly rational person. You don’t believe in baseless assertions. You exercise your critical thinking skills. You have developed a keen sense of discernment over the years. You can’t possibly be at the effect of this type of bias.
Oh contraire! Think again. This bias is used regularly against you and an unsuspecting public. One of the most common ways of using this bias is what politicians call a smear campaign.
It works like this. Someone makes a salacious claim, such as “Donald Trump is a Russian agent,” or “KFC had to change its name because its food doesn’t actually contain chicken.” These claims come from dubious information sources attempting to look credible.
The story captures headlines in news outlets across the world, and suddenly everyone believes it to be true. People like Trump and companies like KFC suffer damages and have to spend an enormous amount of effort disproving the claims.
When the claim has been disproven, you rarely ever see media outlets sharing a retraction on the front page. It generally gets buried deep within the newspaper, despite the damage publishing lies cause to the person or company concerned.
In their eyes, these stories sell papers. It’s just good business. I didn’t know that the media’s job was to exert control over a person or a company’s reputation. I thought their purpose was to disperse truth to the masses.
In reality, this hasn’t been the case since the days of the first cuneiform writing slab. Media companies are, in reality, agents of propaganda, misinformation and bias, selling enough truth to make them believable, mixed with half-truths and bare-faced lies to put forth an agenda. They want you to believe that what you’re hearing, seeing or reading is the truth, that you can count on them to deliver real news.
What’s the impact on you? If you don’t dig deep to find out the truth for yourself, you are making important decisions on half-truths at best, downright lies at worst.
For you, this might not be an issue. Truth might not be something that matters much to you. If this is the case, then this bias is probably not a cause for concern. Ignore everything I am saying here.
If truth is important to you, then consider this. Very little of what you read is absolute truth. Every piece of data presented, every opinion expressed and every report written is, in some way, influenced by bias. Rarely is it fact.
Why should you believe it, then?
Why should any of us believe anything we read?
I would argue that it’s wise to take everything with a pinch of salt. Swallow these things hook, line and sinker and find yourself on the end of a fisherman’s line. You’ve been caught. And if you’re a big enough and tasty enough food source, you’re destined for this evening's dinner table.
Cheery thought, I know, and yet it’s what I know to be true. I was once part of the media machine. I was fortunate to work for a company that brought integrity and ethics to its practices. I am grateful for everything that I learned.
At the same time, I could see how open to abuse the media is, particularly by companies who expect editorial column inches to reflect advertising spend. In media, money talks. Trends beget sales. You’re either in or you’re out. There’s no middle ground.
It’s business after all!
I’ve spent the last five years researching media campaigns in both the mainstream media and alternative sources. Here’s what I’ve discovered. Alternative sources take the time to show the reader the proof of their assertions. Mainstream media sources rely on a mysterious thing that they believe they’ve built, called trust.
Unfortunately, they abuse your trust every time they knowingly print a half-truth. And unfortunately, they do it every day.
I’ve also experienced it in companies. Recently, I met an entrepreneur whose demeanour was the antithesis of the company name and its website. Let’s put it his way. His communications team did a good job of positioning the person as attractive. It’s a shame my experience of him didn’t match the online picture painted of him.
It had me wonder what personality failings his marketing communications team were trying to cover up. It made me doubt the integrity of his word by showing such a flippant disregard for his company’s communications strategy.
In short, it revealed a mismatch in message versus reality, the misalignment of which creates a cognitive dissonance that breeds mistrust. I came away from the meeting knowing that I would choose not to work with this company, no matter how good their product is.
In my mind, this is perfect. It's possible that he was having a bad day, and it's possible that he's just a grumpy git. Whatever the truth, I prefer to focus on partnerships in which there is a values alignment.
Similarly, the more information sources I can eliminate, the more able I am to steer clear of propagandists in favour of those who are committed to sharing truth. They are few and far between, but when you find them, they are worth their weight in gold.
Truth is a difficult path. Schopenhauer once said, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
Brilliance doesn’t shirk from truth. It dares to shine a light in the murky places, in spite of the risks. And in the end, truth prevails.