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Psychologists explain why people believe false stories about Obama’s birthplace, and what to do about it

There have been a number of articles written by professionals examining the birther phenomenon. A group of  them appeared in the New York Times in a series called “The Psychology of the ‘Birther’ myth.”

Now an article in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest,Misinformation and Its Correction: Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing,” tackles several examples of public misinformation, including false stories about Obama’s birthplace and gives recommendations on the more effective ways to combat misinformation.

The following chart from the paper summarizes the practical approaches to explain and combat misinformation (click to enlarge):

Give it a read and let’s talk about it.

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42 Responses to Psychologists explain why people believe false stories about Obama’s birthplace, and what to do about it

  1. avatar
    Rickey October 1, 2012 at 7:38 pm #

    Evidence shows that vaccines do not cause autism, that global warming is actually occurring, and that President Obama was indeed born in the United States. Why then do people still — often passionately — believe the opposite to be true? In this report, Lewandowsky (University of Western Australia) and colleagues review recent psychological science detailing common sources of misinformation, processes for evaluating the validity of new information, and strategies for combating the effects of misinformation

    http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/journals/pspi/misinformation1.html

  2. avatar
    Keith October 2, 2012 at 2:29 am #

    The diagram does not popout when I click on it. It is impossible to read. I’ll chase the article.

    [Fixed. Doc]

  3. avatar
    foreigner October 2, 2012 at 3:52 am #

    psychology isn’t really science, is it ?

    it’s more interesting to examine the psychology of those who come up with
    the stories. Do they really believe it or
    are they motivated by the anticipated reaction

  4. avatar
    Scientist October 2, 2012 at 5:57 am #

    foreigner: psychology isn’t really science, is it ?

    You are way behind he times, my friend. That might have been true in the era of Freud and Jung et al, but modern neuroscience is indeed a science. Specific thoughts correate with activity in specific regions of the brain. Cognitive dissonance has been mapped to the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and the anterior insula.

    In case you were wondering.

  5. avatar
    Majority Will October 2, 2012 at 6:24 am #

    “psychology isn’t really science”

    smh

    The birthers would probably prefer more sound and proven scientific theories such as phlogiston, phrenology, biorhythms and spontaneous generation.

  6. avatar
    Slartibartfast October 2, 2012 at 6:31 am #

    I haven’t had a chance to read the article yet, but I wanted to subscribe to the thread…

    Thanks, Doc!

  7. avatar
    Northland10 October 2, 2012 at 6:37 am #

    foreigner: psychology isn’t really science, is it ?

    The Psychology department at my alma mater specializes refers to their undergraduate program as the following:

    The undergraduate curriculum provides broad training in psychology, the scientific study of behavior. Principles of science are applied to the study of a full range of behavioral phenomena. These principles include objective measures of behavioral phenomena, systematic observation and experimentation to test hypotheses, and emphasis on critical interpretation of results and standards of evidence. Behavioral phenomena include the obvious examples of motor responses but also include verbal behavior, cognitions, emotions and physiological phenomena, all phenomena that require special considerations to objectively measure and scientifically study.

    Now, if I recall, as my alma mater (and the basic class I took back in the day) was centered around behavioral psychology (think Skinner) but another, newer camp would be cognitive psychology. At a glance, the paper appears to lean toward cognitive psychology. This type definitely uses a scientific methodology.

  8. avatar
    Thrifty October 2, 2012 at 7:01 am #

    Doc, the “click to enlarge” doesn’t seem to work.

    [This is now fixed. Doc]

  9. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy October 2, 2012 at 7:54 am #

    I love it when you talk dirty.

    Scientist: Cognitive dissonance has been mapped to the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and the anterior insula.

  10. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy October 2, 2012 at 8:42 am #

    I find it ironic that a journal article on misinformation would itself contain faux facts about Barack Obama’s birth. They wrote:

    Notwithstanding the incontrovertible evidence for the simple fact of his American birth—from a Hawaiian birth certificate to birth announcements in local papers to the fact that his pregnant mother went into the Honolulu hospital and left it cradling a baby.

    I’m pretty well up on these things, and I have never seen any source for that last bit about leaving the hospital “cradling a baby.” How is this a “fact” and where is the “evidence?” Certainly this is the traditional way mothers leave hospitals with their newborns, but there are fathers and grandparents too.

  11. avatar
    Rickey October 2, 2012 at 11:28 am #

    foreigner:
    psychology isn’t really science, is it ?

    Psychology is a diverse discipline, grounded in science, but with nearly boundless applications in everyday life. Some psychologists do basic research, developing theories and testing them through carefully honed research methods involving observation, experimentation and analysis. Other psychologists apply the discipline’s scientific knowledge to help people, organizations and communities function better.

    As psychological research yields new information, whether it’s developing improved interventions to treat depression or studying how humans interact with machines, these findings become part of the discipline’s body of knowledge and are applied in work with patients and clients, in schools, in corporate settings, within the judicial system, even in professional sports

    Psychology is a doctoral-level profession. Psychologists study both normal and abnormal functioning and treat patients with mental and emotional problems. They also study and encourage behaviors that build wellness and emotional resilience. Today, as the link between mind and body is well-recognized, more and more psychologists are teaming with other health-care providers to provide whole-person health care for patients.

    http://www.apa.org/about/index.aspx

  12. avatar
    Thrifty October 2, 2012 at 11:51 am #

    Dr. Conspiracy: I’m pretty well up on these things, and I have never seen any source for that last bit about leaving the hospital “cradling a baby.” How is this a “fact” and where is the “evidence?” Certainly this is the traditional way mothers leave hospitals with their newborns, but there are fathers and grandparents too

    I can’t tell if you’re being facetious and channeling a Birther, or if you really missed the figurative language at use here.

  13. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy October 2, 2012 at 12:07 pm #

    Well I considered figurative language, but figurative language is not appropriate in a sentence using words like “fact” and “evidence.”

  14. avatar
    G October 2, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

    True, they should have simply ended their statement with simply saying he was born in a hospital.

    Yes, they chose to express the ending of their paragraph with some figurative language that happens to merely be a colorful and reasonable extrapolation of the known data. Obviously, they left the hospital with their baby at some point after his birth. True, we don’t have the specifics of when exactly they left the hospital, if anyone was physically carrying the baby out of hospital and who that was. But then again, none of those details have any relevance in the first blace. What matters is that we know he was born there and we do know that they eventually left the hospital and we know where Barack lived as a baby. So I’m not at all concerned or bothered by this particular writing style getting a little expressive and figurative on something that is a non-issue and merely a technique to keep the writing style from being too dry.

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    Well I considered figurative language, but figurative language is not appropriate in a sentence using words like “fact” and “evidence.”

  15. avatar
    G October 2, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

    In terms of the chart, I think this site and its contributors have done a fairly good job of addressing the first three types of problems (Continued Influence Effect, Familiarity Backfire Effect, Overkill Backfire Effect.)

    What remains amongst the “true believers” in hard-core Birtherism (and I would argue in most of the RWNJ thought patterns) mainly comes down to that fourth condition: Worldview Backfire Effect . I find this one to be not as easy to address as that chart makes it seem. I mean, when someone’s worldview is steeped deeply in fantasy notions that cannot be satisfied or in bigotry…how do you “affirm” that worldview to reach them? When what they really demand (remove (or worse) Obama) is simply irrational and not going to happen), I argue that I don’t see a practical way to reason or reach those folks. Their personal worldview goals are simply not acceptable – period…and conversely, they really won’t accept anything less.

    What the chart leaves out is the other half of the problem in Birtherism & the RWNJ sphere – that many of these folks are simply intentional manipulators, con artists and agenda-based propagandists from the start. There is no point in trying to “reach” those that don’t actually believe their own BS and who are intentionally trying to mislead. All you can do is expose them for the lying and deceptive rats that they are.

  16. avatar
    Thrifty October 2, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    Well I considered figurative language, but figurative language is not appropriate in a sentence using words like “fact” and “evidence.”

    I think you’re being a bit of a stickler. Birthers harp on whichever Hawaii official it was that said that Obama’s original birth certificate was “half typed, half handwritten”. I think “his pregnant mother went into the Honolulu hospital and left it cradling a baby.” is an expressive statement in the same vein. Not saying that she was literally cradling the baby but that she went to Kapiolani Hospital pregnant and left with a baby.

  17. avatar
    misha marinsky October 2, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

    foreigner: psychology isn’t really science, is it ?

    Goebbels called psychiatry, “the Jewish science.”

  18. avatar
    US Citizen October 2, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

    If someone has a problem understanding how people can have such weird beliefs, consider looking at some of the cognitive dissonance or conformation bias that “normal” people possess.

    For example, if a sound-minded individual spoke to a severely depressed person, they might hear many truthful statements that most people simply don’t want to hear.
    No evidence for god… Everything dies… What’s the point of anything if you die?
    These statements can be difficult to refute or provide answers for, yet most people would just toss them aside and say the person is depressed.
    That is, HE is afflicted; we’re fine.

    The common teenager who has discovered existentialism can not wrap his head around their parent’s mundane and arguably meaningless life.
    They cannot understand why others don’t see the folly of their own existence and announce similar “wake up!” statements like birthers and other nut jobs do.
    The importance of a question can be escalated by a lack of answers provided.
    It can be difficult to move on to other issues or activities when seemingly larger issues remain.

  19. avatar
    Thrifty October 2, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

    Man, I know what you mean. I am extremely averse to children. It’s common for the announcement of a pregnancy to be met with a hearty and cheerful “Congratulations!”. I literally cannot do that. To my mind, children occupy the same head space as a venereal disease. The best I can ever muster is “I’m happy for you that this news brings you joy.” I don’t know that I could ever be convinced that a pregnancy is a good thing, no matter how happy and financially secure the home is.

    US Citizen: The common teenager who has discovered existentialism can not wrap his head around their parent’s mundane and arguably meaningless life.
    They cannot understand why others don’t see the folly of their own existence and announce similar “wake up!” statements like birthers and other nut jobs do.
    The importance of a question can be escalated by a lack of answers provided.
    It can be difficult to move on to other issues or activities when seemingly larger issues remain.

  20. avatar
    Dave B. October 2, 2012 at 4:03 pm #

    Hey Misha, do you know what today is?

    misha marinsky: Goebbels called psychiatry, “the Jewish science.”

  21. avatar
    misha marinsky October 2, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

    Dave B.: Hey Misha, do you know what today is?

    Sukkot. Or, as my grandfather – עליו השלום – would say, Succos.

    BTW, the Chinese calendar has a similar holiday.

  22. avatar
    Dave B. October 2, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

    misha marinsky:

    BTW, the Chinese calendar has a similar holiday.

    They celebrate Groucho’s birthday?

  23. avatar
    misha marinsky October 2, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

    Dr. ButtPiracy:Psychologists have yet to explain why otherwise rational individuals become so heavily invested in becoming obama’s bitches.

    Psychologists have yet to explain why adults act and talk like grade school children, in a playground.

    Oh, and “bitch” is the medical term for a female dog. Please do not insult my Angel. Afghans are very sensitive. I already told her you are an anonymous internet jackass, and she should ignore you.

  24. avatar
    misha marinsky October 2, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

    Dave B.: They celebrate Groucho’s birthday?

    OMG!! I forgot. Oops. October 2, 1890, New York City

    Groucho: “Could I have a lock of your hair?”
    Margaret Dumont: “Oh, why thank you.”
    Groucho: “Actually, I’d like the whole wig.”

    There’s a story that in 1948, the Marxes went to Berlin. Groucho was shown where Adolf’s bunker was. He went to the center, and did a two-minute Charleston.

  25. avatar
    Thomas Brown October 2, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    Dr. ButtPiracy:
    Psychologists have yet to explain why otherwise rational individuals become so heavily invested in becoming obama’s bitches.

    Well, we DO know what makes people post messages like yours:

    Tiny Member Syndrome.

  26. avatar
    misha marinsky October 2, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

    Pimps Up Hos Down:Yo. obama be laughin’ at y’all bitches too! Word.

    I’m sorry, but could you explain what this means? I’m not familiar with gibberish.

  27. avatar
    Bob October 2, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

    My theory that the origins of Jerome Corsi’s Birtherism is rooted in an unhealthy interest in what certain black penises were doing in 1960 got me permanently banned from WND.

  28. avatar
    US Citizen October 2, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

    Thrifty: Man, I know what you mean. I am extremely averse to children.

    I’m with you on this one.
    50 yo and no children by choice.
    With 7 billion already here I don’t think we’ll run out of ’em any time soon.

  29. avatar
    Thomas Brown October 2, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    Bob:
    My theory that the origins of Jerome Corsi’s Birtherism is rooted in an unhealthy interest in what certain black penises were doing in 1960 got me permanently banned from WND.

    You made my day.

  30. avatar
    Andrew Vrba, PmG October 2, 2012 at 6:12 pm #

    Bob:
    My theory that the origins of Jerome Corsi’s Birtherism is rooted in an unhealthy interest in what certain black penises were doing in 1960 got me permanently banned from WND.

    Damn it! I would have to run out of “one free interwebs” coupons the day you post this!

  31. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy October 2, 2012 at 6:33 pm #

    It means chef got a new IP address.

    misha marinsky: I’m sorry, but could you explain what this means? I’m not familiar with gibberish.

  32. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy October 2, 2012 at 6:51 pm #

    This one didn’t bother me. Consider something like: “I understand your love of your country and your desire that it has a bright and prosperous future. I feel the same way, and these are difficult times with legitimate concerns about the future…” You don’t have to agree with their worldview 100% to find common ground.

    G: Worldview Backfire Effect . I find this one to be not as easy to address as that chart makes it seem. I mean, when someone’s worldview is steeped deeply in fantasy notions that cannot be satisfied or in bigotry…how do you “affirm” that worldview to reach them?

  33. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy October 2, 2012 at 6:53 pm #

    We’ll see. I sent my comment to the one of the authors of the paper.

    Thrifty: I think you’re being a bit of a stickler. Birthers harp on whichever Hawaii official it was that said that Obama’s original birth certificate was “half typed, half handwritten”. I think “his pregnant mother went into the Honolulu hospital and left it cradling a baby.” is an expressive statement in the same vein. Not saying that she was literally cradling the baby but that she went to Kapiolani Hospital pregnant and left with a baby.

  34. avatar
    G October 2, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

    While I like what you suggested, sadly, that seems to be an angle that sounds better in concept than how such attempts turn out in reality. I’ve tried an approach similar to that…numerous times – with my own brother-in-law.

    The problem is, it simply doesn’t hold, because their definition of “love of country” and “bright and prosperous future” is sadly mired in too much brainwashed strawman BS, that they refuse to move away from. It quickly devolves into “commies and muslims and godless liberals are enemies” kind of talk…where their definition of love of country is insisting in simplistic generalizations of needing those that differ from them to be “enemies” that must be destroyed…and things quickly devolve from there. When such folks will only accept a definition of “bright and prosperous future”, which adheres and rigidly imposes the ideology that they adhere to, there simply isn’t enough “common ground’ to move forward on.

    You can find temporary “common ground” by shifting to much, much smaller, more immediate pieces of the problem – such as wanting a good job with good pay…but it is hard to expand that sense of “common ground” beyond that, as they very quickly revert to spouting the same bogeyman tropes as blame for all the worlds ills…

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    This one didn’t bother me. Consider something like: “I understand your love of your country and your desire that it has a bright and prosperous future. I feel the same way, and these are difficult times with legitimate concerns about the future…” You don’t have to agree with their worldview 100% to find common ground.

  35. avatar
    John Potter October 2, 2012 at 9:44 pm #

    I see the article as advice (and nifty chart) on how to respond to nuttery (if you have to!)—keep it short, simple, neutral; appeals to better angels, never repeat nuttery even if only to acknowledge—not how to understand nuttery or try to cure it.

    In that light, it’s good advice. If looking at it as a guide for curing nuttery, it’s too simplistic. That requires deprogramming, a removal from all affirmations of nuttery. A new set of stimuli, an environment change. Not the kind of assistance you can grant via the internet. Not easily accomplished offline, either (legally, anyway 😉 ).

  36. avatar
    jayHG October 2, 2012 at 9:49 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    I find it ironic that a journal article on misinformation would itself contain faux facts about Barack Obama’s birth. They wrote:

    I’m pretty well up on these things, and I have never seen any source for that last bit about leaving the hospital “cradling a baby.” How is this a “fact” and where is the “evidence?” Certainly this is the traditional way mothers leave hospitals with their newborns, but there are fathers and grandparents too.

    Oh come on Dr Conspiracy. You’re a smart guy. No way do you NOT know that this sentence was strictly “color” and not meant literally.

  37. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy October 2, 2012 at 11:52 pm #

    This is a peer-reviewed scientific article, not the New York Times.

    jayHG: Oh come on Dr Conspiracy. You’re a smart guy. No way do you NOT know that this sentence was strictly “color” and not meant literally.

  38. avatar
    jayHG October 3, 2012 at 3:34 am #

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    This is a peer-reviewed scientific article, not the New York Times.

    So??? That wasn’t your point…

  39. avatar
    Scientist October 3, 2012 at 6:35 am #

    Dr. Conspiracy: This is a peer-reviewed scientific article, not the New York Times.

    I believe you are incorrect. According to the publisher’s web site it is a review journal, which solicits articles from distinguished authors to present a particular area. Such articles are nor peer reviewed and the standards are looser than in peer-reviewed journals, where original research findings are presented.

    In academic science, writing reviews is considered a step below publishing original research and doing only the former will not get you tenure.

  40. avatar
    JPotter October 3, 2012 at 8:55 am #

    Ohfuhgodssake, split yer hairs however, indulging in “color” runs counter to the “stick to the facts” premise. The author isn’t diligently taking his own advice.

  41. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy October 3, 2012 at 10:23 am #

    Guilty as charged.

    Scientist: I believe you are incorrect.