Hit or Myth


Not as obvious and "duh!"-inspiring as that "hot women are hot" study, but this report on how myth debunkers actually reinforce myths isn't too surprising.

Experiments by Ruth Mayo, a cognitive social psychologist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, also found that for a substantial chunk of people, the "negation tag" of a denial falls off with time. Mayo's findings were published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in 2004.

"If someone says, 'I did not harass her,' I associate the idea of harassment with this person," said Mayo, explaining why people who are accused of something but are later proved innocent find their reputations remain tarnished. "Even if he is innocent, this is what is activated when I hear this person's name again.

"If you think 9/11 and Iraq, this is your association, this is what comes in your mind," she added. "Even if you say it is not true, you will eventually have this connection with Saddam Hussein and 9/11."

This is basic "don't think of an elephant" stuff, and it's a tough impulse to overcome if you're making a political argument. (Ask Larry "I have never been gay" Craig.) The implications for government-provided guides, manuals, and the like are a little more interesting. You can tell a politician not to say "Saddam Hussein didn't attack the United States" but how do you tell the people designing CDC brochures (the example at the start of this piece) that by mentioning popular myths in their warnings, they're going to make a big chunk of brochure readers confused about what was myth and what wasn't?

Jesse Walker on George Lakoff and "don't think of an elephant" logic here.