The world is full of shady self-help gurus and workplace seminars telling us how we can turn our lives around just by using the right words ("Don't say the cheese is 'spoiled' -- say it's 'aged'!"), as if language is a form of magic that can alter reality.
But here's the thing: The human brain is an odd, glitchy machine that is influenced in all sorts of weird ways you never thought of. This is why politicians and salespeople can trick you into going along with them, just by toying with the words they use. Science is just now catching up to them, and has found that ...
Repeating Your Opinion Makes People Believe It, No Matter How Stupid It Is
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This is one that, sadly, you could have guessed if you follow politics or talk radio: Say it enough, and people will believe it. For example, how many of you think Al Gore claims to have invented the Internet? He said no such thing -- but pundits and comedians repeated it enough that it became truth. It's the same reason anti-vaccination zealots stick to their guns, even while they cause diseases to spread like wildfire. They "heard" vaccines were dangerous, and that's literally all it takes -- hearing it over and over. Even if the source is a total stranger and/or an idiot.
Why It Works:
It's just the way human social behavior works -- if a message is repeated enough times, others will begin to accept it as a commonly held belief in the group. In fact, studies have found that if just one person repeats the same opinion three times, it has a whopping 90 percent chance of converting three different people in the group to have the same opinion. Holy shit, that's how both politics and conspiracy theories work, isn't it?
And Internet forums!
Researchers at the University of Michigan have come to call the phenomenon memory distortion, and it's basically a brain glitch where the interplay of repetition and assumption makes us form our beliefs around whatever opinion is the most familiar to us.
But what makes it so treacherous is the fact that all it takes to sway people's beliefs is one crazy person. Hell, it doesn't even work all that well with multiple people: A study on the phenomenon exposed one group to an opinion repeated by three different people, another to that same opinion repeated by one person multiple times. Incredibly, the group subjected to one single guy repeating the opinion was three times more susceptible to changing their own opinions than the others. Even when we actively register that it's just one person spouting bullshit, we're still likely to believe it.
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