Finding Resilience in a Flood of Disinformation

Dr. Keith Witt Cognitive, Intrapersonal, Psychology, What is truth?, Witt & Wisdom: Live with Dr. Keith, Worldviews 43 Comments

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Dr. Keith and Corey explore multiple strategies to help us maintain our mental and emotional well-being as our informational terrains become increasingly disrupted and distorted by a constant deluge of disinformation.

We begin by taking a look at a research briefing by that identifies the three primary cognitive biases that cause people to believe and share misinformation:

1. Repetition and the illusory truth effect

“We are all prone to believing the things we hear repeated. Ever since a 1945 study found that individuals who had previously heard a war rumour were more likely to believe it, psychologists have identified a positive association between repeated exposure to a statement, and its acceptance as truth. This occurs when the audience lacks the information needed to refute a claim – but remarkably, repetition leads to belief even when we do know better.”

2. Fluency and the credibility of information that “looks” right

“We are also prone to believing a story that “looks” right. Whenever we process a new piece of information, whether we believe it or not is a matter of active deliberation, but also a matter of an unconscious, barely perceptible preference our brains have for things which are easy to process. Psychologists refer to this as “processing fluency”. It is a bias we should all be aware of.”

3. Motivated reasoning

“Comprehension of evidence is not necessarily the main factor governing belief in misinformation: sometimes we simply believe things that suit our existing world views. Psychologists call this motivated reasoning. The attitudes we hold already influence our way of accepting new evidence, even when we should and do know otherwise.”

The briefing also presents research findings of who is more vulnerable to believe false data, who is more likely to forward false data, and how false data is challenged (or not) on social media. Some of findings were:

  • Older (60 plus) and less educated people find it harder to discern fact from fiction.
  • Older people find it harder to remember sources of information.
  • Everyone is more distracted on social media and less likely to remember sources.
  • All people tend to share info with higher emotional charge. People share positive material more than negative, but negative stands out.
  • Anything less than a 4 to 1 positive to negative ratio registers more due to human negativity bias.
  • Very few people challenge info they believe is false on social media.
  • Young people more likely to share emotionally charged content they know is wrong.
  • Very few people challenge info they believe is wrong on social media.

Considering just how rampant misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda have become in our broken media landscapes, it is more important than ever for us to come to terms with these cognitive biases in our own lives and better understand how they are constantly shaping and re-shaping our own thoughts and beliefs. This conversation will help you develop the epistemic antibodies you need in order to keep your head above the dark and choppy waters of the social media age.

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Dr. Keith Witt

About Keith Witt

Dr. Keith Witt is a Licensed Psychologist, teacher, and author who has lived and worked in Santa Barbara, CA. for over forty years. Dr. Witt is also the founder of The School of Love.

Corey deVos

About Corey deVos

Corey W. deVos is Editor-in-Chief of Integral Life, as well as Managing Editor of He has worked for Integral Institute/Integal Life since Spring of 2003, and has been a student of integral theory and practice since 1996. Corey is also a professional woodworker, and many of his artworks can be found in his VisionLogix art gallery.

Notable Replies

  1. Introspection is the wrong word. There’s two divergent ideas simultaneously. One, that there is “meaning” regardless of if you exist or not. I imagine a Far Side cartoon of two Gods standing next to each other, and our God shows the other His Universe that He created, and the other God says “Yeah, well, that’s very nice - but what does it actually DO?” Does the Universe need a functional purpose to have value, or “meaning” - then on the micro level do you need a functional purpose to have value or “meaning”? No - all this talk about “the meaning of life” is just people wanting some kind of meaning, and one will do just as well as another because the greater meaning - “God’s” value of the Universe is beyond any flimsy meaning our egos want to create in our brief 2,000 years since Jesus lived.

    In this grand scale of things, you or I have no more extrinsic “meaning” than bacteria, unless we create it from within ourselves. Without bacteria, 99.99% of life on Earth would cease to exist, while if Humans became extinct the rest of the life forms would prosper.

    It’s mostly Ego and Fear that causes humans to embrace the self limiting belief that they are the center of some kind of “plan” for the entire Universe. It’s actually call it a delusion.

    We probably disagree what these “fruits” are, and we also probably disagree on the method by which we get fruits. I see winter as a necessary prelude to spring, so there can be no fruit without a bit of frost (or at least a rainy season before the sunny). I see the global “summer” of humanity as pre-ancient times when the great Megaliths were built (evidence of complex and advanced cultures) and the Great World Wars of the past 300 years (one of them lasted 100 years) as the “Winter”. I’d call 2020 Humanity’s Winter Solistice - where it’s still a cultural Winter but at least the sun is starting to draw nearer instead of further away.

    Christianity was an important stage in Humanity, but not the ultimate truth about everything for all time. Democracy and individual rights are also important developments - but not sacred cows, either.

    Actually having an adult daughter who at one time came out as Gay, the Untied States has no appeal to her. I guess it depends on how you define “East” and “West” in that case. She prefers to live pretty far to the East (but slightly West of the actual “East”).
    But the question completely ignores the fact that the West completely destroyed the deep cultures of the East through Colonialism.
    If I had to live 1,000 lifetimes from 15,000 bce to 2,000 ce, I’d definitely prefer the East. Things only got bad in the East since Colonialism, so only the last 500 years was worse in the East. Even if we just took the age of Christianity, life was more pleasant in the East for 3/4 of that period then for another few hundred years it was a tie. Life in the “West” was Hell until very recently. Imagine living in a city where people just toss buckets of piss and shit out their windows. Public sanitation is a very recent development in the West.

    I mean, you probably should check out what you repeat before you repeat something.
    The only difference the research shows is that the Far Left is more self critical while the Far Right is more overconfident.

    You keep saying “every”, but completely ignore the fact that you are not considering “every”, but just a narrow view. Yes, today is the best time to have “stuff” and “comfort”. So yes, if you are an unthinking consumer with no actual desire for anything else besides consumption and comfort, then yes - now is the best of times. If, however, you prefer silk to rayon or honey over artificial sugar - silk and honey have existed for thousands of years and I actually don’t like rayon nor artificial sweeteners. I could list hundreds of other examples, but hopefully you see my point.

    By the way, I just spent a week in a tent and while I did have various electronic devices, I preferred to just listen to the coqui frogs. I feel much more balanced and healthy than using any media device or other invention could ever come close to.
  2. I don’t see how a focus on physical meaning or existence is much more than a basic fear of death. I don’t know how this would rank for most people but for myself I don’t concern myself with it. It doesn’t interest me. I think traditional faith practices developed over centuries first and foremost look to provide mental well being and freedom from anxiety. Both in individual and communal quadrants.
    Personally I like to investigate ideologies and dogmas and practices as a pupil of understanding, but don’t have the temerity to dismiss these traditional practices that work for Billions to substitute my own ideas. Have we each here done the work comparable in depth and longevity to the Buddhist monk, Catholic priest, practicing Pastor, Imam, Rabbi, life long Shaman much less have the combination of intelligence, emotional intelligence, hard work and luck of right work to produce these traditions, prayers, religions, practices that the truly brilliant saint like people that have come before have built for us.

  3. Not dismissive but simply weighing real world results for cultures based on Eastern vs Western religions and governing systems. I know you see things essentially diametrically opposite.
    To give Buddhism its due, it has been a great religion for internal development in really harsh living conditions. I’m not sure the Chinese or Filipinos or Maylas or Koreans or Indians can vouch for Buddhism being an avant gard foundation for their experiences and cultural developments.

    I’m quite well aware of the rise and decline of the Ottoman Empire and its influence due to historical family impacts.
    To me these power dynamics should be looked at first and foremost from an economic and territory lens, then secondarily through the pop culture go-to lenses of religion and race. To lead with religion as the causation for wars is a bit naive in my view.
    How did your wife’s ancestors fare under the Ottomans? Was it a drop off in quality of life to gravitate back into the European sphere?

  4. 1 - I don’t focus on it, but you seem to more than I do.
    2 - It’s only bleak if you are an addict. If you are not an addict, there is no need to even change much less hit rock bottom.
    The irony is that your unconscious brain knows you are addicted to an unhealthy and unsustainable culture. Otherwise you’d just say “Yeah, sucks to be them, eh?” Instead you subconsciously identified with the addict and know you need to change, but are fearful of facing that.

    I’m completely willing and able to use a different mode of communicating. My challenge for you would be to not do this for a week.

    I’ve countered this before, and we can have this discussion again. Essentially, you’ve led me to believe that you think having “stuff” is a “better” society, and I completely disagree. There are a few things modern society has done very well, like universal vaccinations (prior to 2010’s) and acute medical treatment - we can sew a penis back on after it’s been cut off, for example), but other than that it’s only from your perspective that things are better and I have brought in lots of facts showing things are not actually the best ever from what people would consider quality of life perspective - unless you only selectively choose certain periods of history while refusing to recognize you are being selective and claiming it is “in all history”.

    Again - I never said anything about forcing anything. It’s allowing things to run their natural course. “Die of natural causes”, so to speak. If I say people will die earlier due to smoking, that does not mean I’m going to go out and kill all smokers or “torch it all” and burn them at the stake.
    Again, you are not actually reading what I am saying but reacting to some kind of projection that I believe is based in fear you have unconsciously but refuse to acknowledge consciously.

    I’ll repeat myself - Modern society is unsustainable and has the behaviors of an addicted society. It is not only addicted to material things, but also to unhealthy mindsets like American exceptionalism and entitlement - and backed by an eagerness to use violence to solve all it’s problems. Add in an inability to think rationally as we see in the increasing numbers of Q-Anon and conspiracy theories / Ancient Aliens / global cabal / whatever.
    This is just a formula for disaster and compounded by the fact that every effort to reduce their addictions on the supply side results in hostility and THEIR desire to burn everything down - as we see in Trumps popularity and the Jan 6 insurrection (a violent attempt to overthrow democracy because they refuse to admit they lost). This is like starting a fist fight whenever you are beaten in a sport and complaining that everyone who ever beats you cheated. Unfortunately this is not 5 year olds playing a game, but people who have access to deadly weapons.
    Nothing about this is me forcing anyone to do anything, lol.

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