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The illusion of truth

Updated: Apr 23, 2021


Since it is the Easter holidays, we will take a quick diversion away from CBT for today’s blog and take a look at another area of psychology.


The illusion of truth (also known as the illusion of truth effect, validity effect, truth effect or the reiteration effect) is the tendency to believe false information as truth after repeated exposure.


One of my favorite documentary’s in recent times is “Behind the curve”, this is distributed by Netflix and takes a look at the conspiracy theory that the earth is flat. The reason I am using this as my base example for what I will be talking about is because with a simple scientific experiment, an ancient Greek mathematician calculated the earth’s circumference. Eratosthenes was this Greek mathematician who was born around the year 276 BCE and died around 194 BCE. I am not by any means well versed in math's but his principle of calculating the circumference was based on how the sun produces a shadow when you stand a stick in the ground. He put a stick in the ground at Alexandria (Egypt) and measured the shadows length and angle. This was also done at Syrene (Another city in Egypt). The main findings were that if the earth was flat then the angles would be the very same. Since the angles were different at each city this meant that the earth had to be curved. His calculations that he came up with, are today said to be in the error range of -2.4% to +0.8% which is remarkable for the time.


For more in depth information around how he came up with his calculations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mw30CgaXiQw


With the flat earth movement which is surprisingly growing each year, I am fascinated with why people seem to believe things that are scientifically shown to be false. The Coronavirus is very similar, I have heard and read things that there is no COVID and it is all 5G towers doing the damage, that the vaccine is part of the great reset which will wipe out ¾ of the world’s population or that the vaccine is the mark of the beast. Where do we come up with these ideas? and Where do we get the evidence to suggest something like this?


The modern term that I have heard is an “Echo chamber”, if we only surround ourselves with people of the same views/beliefs and only engage with people of the same views/beliefs then I will solidify my beliefs. I believe this is to be true in today’s society as we see more and more people being pushed to the further left (Liberal) and further right (Conservative). We need to be open to discourse and looking at the evidence to inform our views/beliefs.


One of the main arguments of conspiracy theorists is simply put: “Well you have not seen x, so you don’t 100% know the truth”. This statement is technically true for the majority of people (myself included) but works both ways. The next step is looking at how we formulate our beliefs.


The main issue that I see in general is the leap of faith we all have to take when forming a belief as true. What I mean here is that taking the flat earth as the example these are my truths:


- I have not seen with my eyes that the earth is round or flat

- My evidence on the earth being round is what I have read, seen and heard off other people

- I have not carried out the experiment I have spoken about above to prove the earth is round


My belief that the earth is round is based off the evidence I have seen, heard and read. Our beliefs about everything are based off the same principles unless we see with our own eyes as truth.


Again the reason I used the flat earth is because I believe that if I did carry out the experiment then I would come up with the same conclusion that the earth is round and have my own visible truth. Until I do that, I am taking that leap of faith to say everything that is presented to me that the earth being round is true.


Another reason for this blog is that people can be presented with all the scientific evidence available and yet still disbelieve the scientifically accepted truth. I believe the three questions to ask people are the following:


- How did you come to that belief?

- Why is that the truth?

- Are you open to being wrong?


These are questions I use in my practice with clients who have faulty beliefs about the world or themselves. The main idea is for me not to change a person’s belief, but to help the person explore and realize the truth themselves.

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