Science & Technology
February 13, 2022 | 12 comments
New research has highlighted our susceptibility to believing anything that certain sources say.
In a recent experiment, an international team of researchers developed a computer algorithm that spouted absolute nonsense made to sound intelligent and believable through the excessive use of intellectual wording and scientific buzz-words.
To see just how believable the nonsense phrases actually were, they then showed examples to 10,195 people from 24 countries and told them that the phrases had come from a scientist or a spiritual guru.
The results indicated that 76% of participants had found the scientist’s phrases credible, while 55% believed that the spiritual guru’s phrases were credible.
The researchers believe that these findings demonstrate what is known as the “Einstein effect”, where trusted sources of information such as scientists are deemed to be more believable because of the perception that they are more credible.
“From an evolutionary perspective, deference to credible authorities such as teachers, doctors, and scientists is an adaptive strategy that enables effective cultural learning and knowledge transmission,” the researchers wrote.
“Indeed, if the source is considered a trusted expert, people are willing to believe claims from that source without fully understanding them.”
In the case of Einstein, his work is likely to be beyond the comprehension of most people, yet the majority would likely consider just about anything he said to be credible.
“In the absence of the means to rationally evaluate a claim and reliable source information, people probably infer credibility based on beliefs about the group to which the source belongs,” the researchers wrote.
“In this process, similarities between one’s own worldview and that of the source’s group may serve as a proxy for being a benevolent and reliable source.”