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Research has shown that, if you're repeatedly exposed to the phrase:
"The body temperature of a chicken."
That's right. "The body temperature of a chicken."
Even if no useful information is given about the body temperature of a chicken, you are more likely
to judge as true this statement: "the body temperature of a chicken is 34 degrees Celsius."
It's not, by the way, it's actually closer to 41.
But this finding highlights an important aspect of our psychology that plays a huge role in how we see the world
The things we're exposed to repeatedly feel more true.
Now, the way this seems to work is through a mechanism called cognitive ease.
Cognitive ease is a measure of how hard your brain is working.
From easy, like when you're scrolling through Facebook,
To hard, like if you're trying to multiply 14 times 37 in your head.
Things that are true generally elicit cognitive ease.
Like "fire is hot", "earth revolves around the sun", "dogs have four legs", and so on.
Not only do these things feel true, they also feel familiar. Effortless.
And they feel good.
All of these are outcomes of cognitive ease.
Now, the trouble arises because cognitive ease can be artificially created in other ways.
One way is just by repeating the stimulus.
In a classic experiment at two Michigan universities,
experimenters took out ads in the school newspapers.
Each ad consisted only of one of these nonsense words
They were printed with different frequencies.
One word appeared on the paper only once
while others appeared two, five, ten or twenty-five times.
The word frequencies were reversed at the other unversity
At the end of the experiment, researchers sent out questionnaires
asking people to rate the meaning of each of these nonsense words
on a scale from "it means something good" to "it means something bad."
And the findings were clear.
The more frequently the word had appeared in the newspaper,
the more people thought it meant something good.
So, with enough repetition, even a nonsense word comes to feel familiar.
It triggers cognitive ease and overall feelings of goodness.
Experiments have shown that this also works
when showing English speakers Chinese charachters or even random shapes
And the finding is even more general than that.
Songs are judged more favorably after you've listened to them a bunch of times than on the first listening,
and participants looking at yearbook photos judge the people in the photos as more likable
after seeing that photo more times.
But that brings up the question, what are the Kardashians famous for?
Depending on who you ask, you may find that they're famous for nothing, or just famous for being famous,
but really they are famous for exactly the same reason anyone is famous, and that's because you've heard their names
and seen their faces over and over again.
Now, they are familiar, you have experience with them in the past, and therefore they are processed
with cognitive ease, which also feels good.
This is at the core of the advertising industry.
The idea that, repeated often enough,
Even "brown carbonated sugar water"
seems really appealing.
But, maybe it shouldn't be surprising that
repeated stimuli are perceived more favorably.
After all, our brains have evolved
to identify threats.
And anything novel is
a potential threat.
But, if after repeated exposure nothing bad happens,
it becomes familiar and comfortable and therefore
a sign of safety rather than a threat.
And this general phenomenon extends beyond humans.
Chicks who were played a tone when they were in the egg,
later made fewer distress calls
when the same tone was played to them as chicks.
But repetition is not the only way to create cognitive ease.
Images with higher contrast are perceived by the brain with more cognitive ease,
making them feel good
which explains most of the Instagram filters.
In another study, people who were shown images
where the outline was projected quickly and
imperceptibly before the image,
they started to smile and relax their brows
as measured by electrodes on these muscles.
Videos with bad audio quality and low contrast
create cognitive strain as you try to figure out what's going on,
possibly searching for threats.
You may not have noticed just now, but
Your brows probably furrowed and your mouth started to frown.
Which is why we prefer high-contrast video
with crisp audio.
And the same applies to text,
so which of these statements do you think is true?
Well, actually, it's a trick question.
He was born in 1879.
But, studies have shown that people will often choose
the more legible answer,
nice, contrasting bold text
is easier and quicker to read, it's handled with
more cognitive ease, and is therefore judged to be more true.
Lawyers with easily pronounced last names
are over-represented, higher up the chain in law firms,
even controling for rarity and ethnicity of the names.
And even companies that have pronounceable abbreviations
on the stock market out-perform those
with unpronounceable tags,
which you'll be happy to know if you have stock
in those companies.
And being happy, in fact,
that makes you more likely to experience
cognitive ease as well.
This, in turn, makes you more intuitive.
Try this: What connects these three things?
"cottage", "Swiss", "cake."
All English speakers recognise a unique solution:
How about:
"sky", "bulb", "high?"
The answer is light.
Now, not all sets of three words share a connection, of course.
But, what's amazing is experiments have shown, people can determine
whether they do or not, in only a few seconds,
long before they figure out what the actual association is.
This is due to the sensation of cognitive ease,
somewhere deep in the brain, these associations
cause a flicker of recognition,
which feels pleasant.
It's the same reason why people say "to go with your gut"
on multiple choice tests,
if you're not exactly sure of the answer.
Now, is this true or false:
"All roses are flowers,
some flowers fade quickly,
therefore some roses fade quickly."
"Yeah." "You can say that follows."
"One would think it would be true."
"But I got a feeling it's not."
The actual answer is "False."
Roses aren't necessarily the "some flowers" that fade quickly.
A test using a similar set of three questions
found that 90% of people made at least one mistake
when the questions printed clearly.
But when a test was printed like this,
the error rate dropped to 35%.
Making the test harder to read actually
INCREASED the accuracy of reseults.
This is because the illegible text creates cognitive strain,
forcing your brain to work harder,
and that helps avoid the pitfall and jumping to the intuitive, but wrong answer.
Cognitive ease is useful for being creative and intuitive
but it also makes you more gullible.
So for the written part of your driving test,
going with your gut is probably a good strategy.
But in areas like Physics where the answers are counter-intuitive and there are many common misconceptions,
it's important to be more skeptical.
This vigilance takes effort.
And it's also associated with being... unhappy.
Have you ever noticed that some of the best scientists and analytical minds are grumpy and suspicious of everything?
I mean I think this could be more than just poor social skills
it may be essential for them to do their job.
And this is a paradox of learning and critical thinking.
Cognitive ease is pleasant.
It is effortless, familiar, and it really does make you
more creative and intuitive.
But it can also trick you.
It may make things SEEM true that aren't,
and you may feel like you're learning when you're not.
On the other hand, being skeptical and analytical takes more mental work.
It's more confusing and it doesn't feel it's good,
but... it's the best way to separate fact from fiction.
Now you might think that the point of this video
is to say that we only to think critically more often.
But that's not it.
As an analytical thinker myself, I find it takes me like
half an hour just to select a toothbrush.
There are definitely times when cognitive ease is the appropriate mental state.
When we evolve it for a reason, so we can react intuitively in familiar everyday situations.
Why think harder than you have to?
So the key is to identify those times when more thought is required.
But with sharing and repeating ideas,
easier than ever before,
I think we need to be more vigilant,
to distinguish between those things that are really true
and those we simply have heard many times before.
The more something is repeated,
the more it starts to feel true.
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