Why we sometimes believe things that are untrue

Why we sometimes believe things that are untrue

Catherine Neilan

06:50 15th April 2021

Social media is filled with people making grand statements and then arguing their ground. But how strongly do they really believe those views?

This week, we talk to science journalist Tom Chivers about crony beliefs, opinions that we hold - or say we hold - because it is socially advantageous to do so.

How does this work? Clearly there are situations - like whether there is a chair under your backside - where beliefs have to correspond to reality, at risk of a rude surprise and a bruised bottom.

But when things are up for debate, like politics, economics and even public health, people may fall in with whatever views are being expressed by their peers.

Tom gives the example of climate change, where your inability as an individual to enact change places a low value on your belief, but you could easily be ostracised from your social group if you say the wrong thing.

Crony beliefs are something that might feel uncomfortable to admit. We like to believe that we are rational beings who are above such base things as peer pressure.

But we might not even be conscious that we are doing it, because we actually convince ourselves that we believe this untruth.

Cat and Tom chat about how crony beliefs have manifested themselves in the culture wars, and during the pandemic, over topics ranging from face masks to lockdowns, and whether social media is fuelling this division further. He also gives some tips for how to spot if you're being suckered into a crony belief.

Listen to the episode in full below.

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