Why People Believe Political Lies
Politics is a domain where lying seems to be rampant and pervasive. From false claims about one’s opponents, to exaggerated promises about one’s policies, to outright denial of facts and evidence, political lies are everywhere. But why do people believe them? What makes us susceptible to deception by those who seek power and influence?
In this article, I will explore some of the psychological and social factors that contribute to our tendency to believe political lies, and some of the ways we can protect ourselves from being misled.
One of the main reasons why people believe political lies is that they are motivated to do so. That is, they have a preference or a bias for a certain outcome, and they adjust their reasoning and evaluation of information to fit that outcome. This is known as motivated reasoning, and it can affect how we process and interpret political information.
For example, if we support a certain candidate or party, we are more likely to believe their statements, even if they are false or dubious, and we are more likely to dismiss or ignore the statements of their opponents, even if they are true or valid. We are also more likely to seek out and accept information that confirms our existing beliefs, and to avoid or reject information that challenges them. This is known as confirmation bias, and it can lead us to form a distorted or incomplete picture of reality.
Motivated reasoning can also make us more vulnerable to political lies that appeal to our emotions, values, or identities. For instance, if we feel angry, fearful, or hopeful about a certain issue, we are more likely to believe political lies that amplify or exploit those emotions, and to disregard political truths that contradict or undermine them. Similarly, if we identify strongly with a certain group, such as a nation, a religion, or a social class, we are more likely to believe political lies that affirm or defend that group, and to reject political truths that criticize or threaten it.
Motivated reasoning can be influenced by various factors, such as our personality, our education, our culture, and our media exposure. However, it is not a fixed or immutable trait. We can change our motivation and our reasoning, if we are aware of our biases and willing to challenge them.
Another reason why people believe political lies is that they are cognitively lazy. That is, they do not invest enough mental effort or resources to evaluate the veracity and validity of political information. They rely on heuristics, or mental shortcuts, that simplify and speed up their decision-making, but also increase the risk of error and deception.
For example, if we encounter a political statement, we may not bother to check its source, its evidence, or its logic. We may just accept it as true, if it sounds plausible, coherent, or familiar. This is known as the illusory truth effect, and it can make us more susceptible to repeated or widespread political lies. Alternatively, we may just reject it as false, if it sounds implausible, incoherent, or unfamiliar. This is known as the backfire effect, and it can make us more resistant to new or complex political truths.
Cognitive laziness can also make us more dependent on political lies that provide us with simple and clear answers, solutions, or scapegoats. For instance, if we are confused, uncertain, or overwhelmed by a political issue, we are more likely to believe political lies that reduce the complexity and ambiguity of the issue, and that offer us a straightforward and satisfying explanation, action, or blame. Conversely, we are less likely to believe political truths that increase the complexity and ambiguity of the issue, and that require us to think critically, creatively, or responsibly.
Cognitive laziness can be influenced by various factors, such as our intelligence, our knowledge, our mood, and our attention span. However, it is not a permanent or inevitable state. We can overcome our laziness and improve our cognition, if we are curious, interested, and engaged with political information.
A third reason why people believe political lies is that they are socially influenced. That is, they are affected by the opinions, behaviors, and norms of other people, especially those who are close, similar, or authoritative to them. They conform to the expectations and pressures of their social groups, and they follow the cues and signals of their social leaders.
For example, if we belong to a certain community, such as a family, a neighborhood, or a workplace, we are more likely to believe the political lies that are shared, endorsed, or promoted by that community, and we are more likely to conform to the political views and actions that are prevalent, accepted, or rewarded by that community. We are also more likely to avoid or resist the political truths that are rejected, criticized, or punished by that community. This is known as social conformity, and it can lead us to adopt or maintain political beliefs that are inaccurate or irrational.
Social influence can also make us more receptive to political lies that appeal to our social needs, such as belonging, approval, or status. For instance, if we feel lonely, insecure, or inferior in our social context, we are more likely to believe political lies that make us feel connected, validated, or superior to others, and to disregard political truths that make us feel isolated, rejected, or inferior to others. Likewise, if we admire, trust, or fear a certain person, such as a friend, a celebrity, or a leader, we are more likely to believe the political lies that they tell us, and to ignore the political truths that they hide from us. This is known as social influence, and it can lead us to follow or imitate political opinions and behaviors that are harmful or unethical.
Social influence can be influenced by various factors, such as our relationships, our roles, our cultures, and our media consumption. However, it is not a constant or uncontrollable force. We can resist and change our social influence, if we are aware of our social context and willing to assert our individuality.
In conclusion, people believe political lies for various reasons, but they can be grouped into three main categories: motivated reasoning, cognitive laziness, and social influence. These factors can interact and reinforce each other, creating a vicious cycle of deception and ignorance. However, they can also be counteracted and corrected, creating a virtuous cycle of truth and knowledge. The key is to be aware of our own psychological and social tendencies, and to be willing to challenge and improve them. By doing so, we can protect ourselves from being deceived by political lies, and we can empower ourselves to seek and support political truths.