How Lies Attack Your Brain

Good piece here, from POLITICO, on how lies overwhelm your brain’s defenses.  I wish there were more on how to defend yourself, but knowing what to look out for is not nothing.  I’ve pulled a few choice excerpts, but you want to go ahead and click through to read the whole piece.

Trump’s Lies vs. Your Brain

Unfortunately, it’s no contest. Here’s what psychology tells us about life under a leader totally indifferent to the truth.

By MARIA KONNIKOVA January/February 2017

All presidents lie. Richard Nixon said he was not a crook, yet he orchestrated the most shamelessly crooked act in the modern presidency. Ronald Reagan said he wasn’t aware of the Iran-Contra deal; there’s evidence he was. Bill Clinton said he did not have sex with that woman; he did, or close enough. Lying in politics transcends political party and era. It is, in some ways, an inherent part of the profession of politicking.

But Donald Trump is in a different category….


Americans are […] living in a new reality, one in which their leader is a manifestly unreliable source.


Lies are exhausting to fight, pernicious in their effects and, perhaps worst of all, almost impossible to correct if their content resonates strongly enough with people’s sense of themselves, which Trump’s clearly do.


What happens when a lie hits your brain? The now-standard model was first proposed by Harvard University psychologist Daniel Gilbert more than 20 years ago. Gilbert argues that people see the world in two steps. First, even just briefly, we hold the lie as true: We must accept something in order to understand it. For instance, if someone were to tell us—hypothetically, of course—that there had been serious voter fraud in Virginia during the presidential election, we must for a fraction of a second accept that fraud did, in fact, take place. Only then do we take the second step, either completing the mental certification process (yes, fraud!) or rejecting it (what? no way). Unfortunately, while the first step is a natural part of thinking—it happens automatically and effortlessly—the second step can be easily disrupted. It takes work: We must actively choose to accept or reject each statement we hear. In certain circumstances, that verification simply fails to take place. As Gilbert writes, human minds, “when faced with shortages of time, energy, or conclusive evidence, may fail to unaccept the ideas that they involuntarily accept during comprehension.”


Our brains are particularly ill-equipped to deal with lies when they come not singly but in a constant stream, …. Eventually, without quite realizing it, our brains just give up trying to figure out what is true.


[R]epeated statements were far more likely to be judged as true the second and third time they appeared—regardless of their actual validity.

Repetition of any kind—even to refute the statement in question—only serves to solidify it.


…when false information is specifically political in nature, part of our political identity, it becomes almost impossible to correct lies.

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