Skip to main content

mental health mondays :: the big lies

the phrase "the big lie" was coined by adolf hitler to describe an untruth on such a grand scale, one that could seem as all-encompassing and passionately communicated that it overcame its self-evident falseness and became accepted. the idea behind it is that the idea would be so ridiculous that no one would believe that a thinking person could make it up. he was onto something there, because there are plenty of examples of people believing ridiculous things. i remember being told in all sincerity that if you dreamt that you died, you actually would die. the question of how people actually evaluated that got skipped right over, because damn, it sounds just crazy enough to work.

is adolf had been born a hundred years after he was, he would likely have made an excellent purveyor of "fake news", something which has come to the public's attention since some have proposed that its omnipresence may have helped tilt the outcome of the american election in favour of eventual winner donald trump. people would see stories repeated on social media- often reading only the associated headlines, which are always written to be as sensationalistic as possible- and assume that the frequency with which they were repeated was evidence of their veracity. in their desperate pursuit of bigger audiences, the mainstream media, those who have built [possibly undeserved] reputations for diligent fact-checking and research, have occasionally been fooled by 'big lies' circulated on social media. the new iphone will have a hologram feature? you couldn't make that up! [except, of course, that someone did.]

but people don't depend on mainstream media to validate what they see, by and large. in fact, many believe that the media shows a liberal bias, a corporatist bias, or a conservative bias, whereby new ideas are ridiculed simply for being new. and those people get their news from sites that validate the things that they feel are true, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. and, in the election, trump's big lies about illegal immigrants being murderers and rapists, the real unemployment rate being 42%, or climate change being a hoax perpetrated by the chinese, had relatively little effect compared to clinton's much more banal half-truths about her hawkish record on military interventions, her shift in position on marriage equality, or her former support for the for-profit prison industry. [in fact, former secretary clinton has a pretty solid record on politifact, not that it helped.]

but what does this have to do with mental health? well, it turns out that there is some psychology behind the appeal of fake news. when it comes to politics, there is the presence of confirmation bias, whereby we seek out information that supports views that we already have, down to the way we phrase questions or terms when searching for information, making it more likely that we will turn up sources that reflect our point of view. the basis of confirmation bias is irrational, which sounds unexceptional enough- people believe irrational things all the time, right? except that belief in irrational or disproved ideas is one of the criteria for mental illness. and aren't we inundated with media images of people who are defined as crazy because of their belief in alien takeovers of the planet or massive government plots to do with placing fluoride in water? and don't such people feed their beliefs by placing an inordinate weight on the opinions of others who share their views?

there hasn't been enough work done on determining the point at which confirmation bias tips into the waters of pathology, but i suspect that the next four years are going to see that continuum tested from different points on the political spectrum.

however, confirmation bias only explains why we fall for fake news that we already agree with. the fact is that there are plenty of cases where we believe stories [like the one about dreaming of your death resulting in your actual death] that don't relate to our other views at all.

well, it turns out that we aren't just biased towards those who share our views, but towards those we normally turn to for information. despite the importance of tracing a story to its original source as a way of evaluating its credibility, one professor conducted a study that revealed people were likely to believe a story they saw on a site they turned to regularly for news, and did not generally bother to check the sources on stories from those sites. so, once we've made a decision to place our trust in a certain source, we stop questioning that source.

in addition, there is the bias i mentioned earlier, that simply seeing something repeated is tantamount to credibility in our minds, unless we make it a habit of questioning everything. in the age of the information glut, trust seems like a luxury we can't afford, and yet paranoia is still considered a sign of mental illness. again, the phrase "that's what they want you to believe" is a trope of the portrayal of mental disorders.

and even if you do have an inquisitive, critical mindset, the repetition of fake news is likely to have an effect anyway, just because your mind starts to accept what it sees all the time as reliable information, even if it's something they would have questioned at first. it's a known psychological phenomenon called the 'continuous influence effect'. it's like our brains' tendency to fight to establish credibility in media finally becomes exhausted and just lets the tidal wave of bullshit wash over us. it's not that we accept the specifics of fake reports, but we tune out and just seeing the words repeated starts to create associations.

the more fake news sites proliferate, of course, and the greater their influence, the more this comes close to being a public health issue. after all, if none of us are able to see the difference between good research and no research, facts become a quaint relic of a previous era, and we're all that guy with the tinfoil hat talking about how the sun is an illuminati plot.

i'm personally a fan of making media literacy a required course in schools and flagging sites that are known to have poor ratings from sites like politifact and snopes. [and for those of you who are thinking that you've heard of them making mistakes in the past, i say: those are just examples, and they're still better than nothing.] but those views are just pipe dreams. you know, crazy.

p.s. :: you will not die if you dream about your own death, i promise. 


as long as you're here, why not read more?

long division

after the united states election last year, there were the usual calls for the country to unite behind the new president. that never happens anymore, because, since george w. bush scored a victory in 2004, having launched the country into a war in iraq for no reason, the people on the losing side of a presidential election have been pretty bloody angry about it. democrats hated bush 43. republicans really hated obama. democrats really hate trump.

it didn't help that trump didn't make the typical conciliatory gestures like including a couple of members of the opposite party in his cabinet, or encouraging his party to proceed slowly with contentious legislation. barack obama arguably wasted at least two and as many as six years of his tenure as president trying to play peacemaker before he felt sufficiently safe to just say "screw you guys" and start governing around the ridiculous congress he was forced to deal with. not-giving-a-shit obama was the best president in …

making faces :: i could maybe not buy this one thing

i've been into makeup on some level for a long time- much longer than i've been writing about it, for certain. even as a young woman, i loved the feeling of i got from applying a deep-hued lipstick and some mascara. it took years for me to figure out eyeshadow, and even longer for me to appreciate blush. but at this point, i think we can agree that i'm pretty much into the whole gamut. [except liquid and super-matte lipsticks, and most very sparkly eyeshadows. but that's because they're painful for me to wear.]

the thing about spending a long time collecting and holding onto just about everything is that you accumulate quite a stash. lately, i'm trying to force myself to think about what i already have before laying down money for something new. most recently, i found myself drawn to the modern renaissance palette from anastasia. me and a lot of people. by the time i started thinking about it, it was already sold out in my local sephora and online. i signed up…

when you want a great pair

i have finally come to the realisation that i might be trying to learn too many languages at once. that's not to say that i don't want to learn all the languages that exist in written form, but spreading myself across a dozen at one time doesn't allow for a lot of progress in any of them. therefore, while i'm still "checking in" with all of them, i'm trying to focus on a couple at a time. lately, that's been swedish and norwegian, because they are both grammatically similar to english [even if the swedish accent is very tough for me], which makes things progress faster. in general, i've been trying to pair similar languages because, while it can get a bit confusing, building the skill sets of both at once strengthens each of them. if you want more bang for your linguistic buck, 'pairing' like this can be quite helpful. here's a few suggestions for ones that i'd recommend:

swedish and norwegian :: they are so similar, it's easy …