Why The Internet Isnt Making Us Smarter And How To Fight Back


    In the hours since I first sat down to write this piece, my laptop tells me the National Basketball Association has had to deny that it threatened to cancel its 2017 All-Star Game over a new anti-LGBT law in North Carolina a tale repeated by many news sources including the Associated Press. The authenticity of that viral video of a bear chasing a female snowboarder in Japan has been called into question. And , no, Ted Cruz is not married to his third cousin. Its just one among an onslaught of half-truths and even pants-on-fire lies coming as we rev up for the 2016 American election season.

    The longer I analyse human psychology, the more impressed I am with the rich tapestry of knowledge each of us owns. We each have a brainy weave of facts, figures, rules and stories that allows us to address an astonishing scope of everyday challenges. Contemporary research celebrates just how vast, organized, interconnected and durable that knowledge base is.

    Thats the good news. The bad news is that our brains overdo it. Not merely do they store helpful and essential datum, they are also receptive to false belief and misinformation.

    Just in biology alone, many people believe that spinach is a good source of iron( sorry, Popeye ), that we use less than 10 percent of our brains( no, its too energy-guzzling to allow that ), and that some people suffer hypersensitivity to electromagnetic radiation( for which there is no scientific evidence ).

    But heres the more concerning news. Our access to information, both good and bad, has only increased as our fingertips have gotten into the act. With computer keyboards and smartphones, we now have access to an Internet containing a vast store of information much bigger than any individual brain can carry and thats not always a good thing.

    Better access doesnt mean better information

    This access to the Internets far reaches should permit us to be smarter and better informed. People surely assume it. A recent Yale examine showed that Internet access causes people to hold inflated, illusory impressions of just how smart and well-informed they are.

    But theres a twofold problem with the Internet that compromises its limitless promise.

    First, just like our brains, it is receptive to misinformation. In fact, the World Economic Forum lists massive digital misinformation as a main threat to society. A survey of 50 weight loss websites found that only three sound diet advice. Another of roughly 150 YouTube videos about vaccination found that only half explicitly supported the procedure.

    Rumor-mongers, politicians, vested interest, a sensationalizing media and people with intellectual axes to grind all inject false information into the Internet.

    So do a lot of well-intentioned but misinformed people. In fact, a study published in the January 2016 Proceedings of National Academy of Science documented just how quickly dubious conspiracy hypothesis spread across the Internet. Specifically, the researchers compared how quickly these rumors spread across Facebook relative to narratives on scientific discoveries. Both conspiracy hypothesis and scientific news spread promptly, with the majority of diffusion via Facebook for both types of narratives happening within a day.

    Making matters worse, misinformation is hard to distinguish from accurate fact. It often has the exact seem and feeling as the truth. In a series of studies Elanor Williams, Justin Kruger and I published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2013, we asked students to solve problems in intuitive physics, logic and finance. Those who consistently relied on false facts or principles and thus dedicated the exact same wrong answer to all the problems carried as much confidence in their conclusions as those who answered every single problem right.

    For example, those who always supposed a ball would continue to follow a curved track after rolling out of a bent tube( not true) were virtually as certain as people who knew the right answer( the ball follows a straight route ).

    Defend yourself

    So, how so we separate Internet truth from the false?

    First, dont assume misinformation is plainly distinguishable from true datum. Be careful. If the matter is important, perhaps you can start your search with the Internet; just dont objective there. Consult and deem other sources of authority. There is a reason why your doctor suffered medical school, why your fiscal advisor examined to gain that license.

    Second, dont do what conspiracy theorists did in the Facebook study. They readily spread tales that already fit their worldview. As such, they practised confirmation bias, dedicating credence to proof supporting what they already believed. As a outcome, the conspiracy theories they endorsed burrowed themselves into like-minded Facebook communities who rarely questioned their authenticity.

    Instead, be a skeptic. Psychological research shows that groups designating one or two of its members to play demons advocates questioning whatever conclusion different groups is leaning toward make for better-reasoned decisions of greater quality.

    If no one else is around, it pays to be your own devils advocate. Dont simply believe what the Internet has to say; question it. Practise a disconfirmation bias. If youre looking up medical information about a health problem, dont stop at the first diagnosis that looks right. Search for alternative possibilities.

    Seeking proof to the contrary

    In addition, look for routes in which that diagnosis might be wrong. Research shows that considering the opposite actively asks how the concluding observations might be wrong is a valuable workout for reducing unwarranted religion in a conclusion.

    After all, you should listen to Mark Twain, who, according to a dozen different websites, cautioned us, Be careful about reading health books. You may succumb of a misprint.

    Wise terms, except a little more investigation uncovers more detailed and researched sources with evidence that it wasnt Mark Twain, but German physician Markus Herz who said them. Im not surprised; in my Internet experience, Ive learned to be wary of Twain quotes( Will Rogers, too ). He was a brilliant witticism, but he gets much too much credit for quotable quips.

    Misinformation and true info often look awfully alike. The key to an informed life may not involve gathering datum as much as it does challenging the ideas you already have or have recently encountered. This may be an unpleasant chore, and an unending one, but it is the best way to ensure that your brainy intellectual tapestry athletics only true colors.

    David Dunning, Professor of Psychology, University of Michigan

    Read more: www.iflscience.com


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