Experiments with People: Revelations from Social Psychology

By Robert P. Abelson; Kurt P. Frey et al. | Go to book overview

16
The Eye Is Quicker
Than the Mind:
Believing Precedes
Unbelieving

“Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones. ”

—Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), British philosopher


BACKGROUND

As we discussed in chapter 15, when someone construes an ambiguous new experience in terms of an old familiar category a false impression can result. This can often be seen in the way people's view of history shapes their view of the present. The traces of a powerful emotional event can persist for centuries, recruiting new examples that seem to fit a familiar pattern. When two groups are in conflict, for example, cultural lore reminds their respective members who their enemies are, what historical grievances they have, and why their cause is just. Thus, every new Palestinian suicide bombing is yet another instance of Arab lawlessness and treachery, every new Israeli military incursion yet another instance of Zionist oppression and expansionism.

There is another process by which people can be led to false impressions. Consider someone who wants to deceive members of an audience about a particular idea, political candidate, or commercial product. When might audiences accept falsehoods as truths? Daniel Gilbert's (1992) answer is “Always—at first. ” People believe everything they read or hear— whether truth, fiction, or outright lie—when they first read or hear it. It is only afterward that they may come to disbelieve it.

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