Sunday, September 09, 2012

Truthiness: Learning Facts from Fiction.

We receive a lot of relevant information from fiction: books, movies, blogs, gossip, etc. Memory research shows that even when people know they read fiction they tend to remember as real the "facts" learned from the fiction. The researchers call this "The Illusion of Knowledge." In other words, misleading fictional stories are an effective way to distort one's memories. The effect is due to the ease of recall. That is, facts mentioned in stories are easier to remember and recall; therefore, when asked, we tend to give fictional facts as answers. Paradoxically, slowing down the narrative or highlighting suspicious paragraphs increases the illusion of knowledge.

(source: Fazio and Marsh, 2008)

Now, I understand why people have major misconceptions about inventors and inventions. They acquire the misconceptions from media stories, and the only way to dispel the illusion of knowledge is to write a better story. For example in the 1990s, books about Nikola Tesla managed to improve his public standing relative to Thomas Edison.

1. Elizabeth J Marsh, Michelle L Meade, Henry L Roediger III. Learning Facts from Fiction. Journal of Memory and Language, Volume 49, Issue 4, November 2003, Pages 519-536. doi:10.1016/S0749-596X(03)00092-5
2. Andrea N. Eslick, Lisa K. Fazio, and Elizabeth J. Marsh. Ironic effects of drawing attention to story errors. MEMORY, 2011, 19 (2), 184-191. DOI:10.1080/09658211.2010.543908
3. LISA K. FAZIO AND ELIZABETH J. MARSH. Slowing presentation speed increases illusions of knowledge. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 2008, 15 (1), 180-185 doi: 10.3758/PBR.15.1.180.
4. MARKUS APPEL and TOBIAS RICHTER. Persuasive Effects of Fictional Narratives Increase Over Time. Media Psychology, 10:113–134, 2007. DOI: 10.108/15213260701301194

tags: psychology, invention, story, problem, magicians

No comments: