In the early 1960s, William McGuire discovered that minds behave as if they have immune systems: expose a mind to a weakened form of an argument, and the mind will become resistant to full-strength versions of the same argument. (This finding illuminates how propagandists, demagogues, and purveyors of orthodoxies close minds to new evidence.) Hundreds of studies now speak to the existence of mental immune systems.
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Yale psychologist Dan Kahan has shown that we're highly resistant to information that threatens our identities. He calls the phenomenon "identity protective cognition," and it appears to correlate with some deep mental immune disorders. Philip Tetlock has shown that the embrace of "sacred values" can make thinking certain thoughts taboo—in effect increasing our resistance, or immunity, to information that might destabilize conviction.
Social and cognitive psychologists have been studying susceptibility to mistaken views for decades. The research has revealed dozens of cognitive biases. Every finding on susceptibility, though, is also a finding related to (undeveloped or compromised) immunity. Why? Because mental susceptibility and mental immunity are two sides of the same coin. For example, Gordon Pennycook and his team have found that, if you lose the "metabelief" that beliefs should change in response to evidence, you become more susceptible to disinformation, conspiracy thinking, and delusion. This implies that that very metabelief is important for mental immune health—that it confers mental immunity. Andy Norman (founder of CIRCE) argues that this metabelief is the linchpin of the mind's immune system.
Scientists now speak openly of "infodemics," in effect acknowledging what we know to be true: bad information can spread like a virus through social networks, compromising the health and wellbeing of its human hosts. It's high time we came to terms with the obvious: (1) mind parasites exist, (2) susceptibility to mind-infections varies enormously, and (3) we need to take a systematic approach to building our immunity to bad information.
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