15/01/2017 4:34 AM AEDT | Updated 15/01/2017 12:18 PM AEDT

Why People Believe Fake News Even When Faced With The Undeniable Truth

On 21 December 1955, a group of people called the Seekers gathered in a Chicago house awaiting the end of the world, believing a UFO was on its way to rescue them from Armageddon.

Neither the end of the world or the alien mercy mission occurred.

Unbeknownst to the Seekers, one of their members was in fact the renowned psychologist, Leon Festinger, intent on studying what happens when someone’s beliefs are challenged by new and overwhelming contradictory information.

He found that instead of accepting they were wrong in the face of an alternative reality, they actually increased their efforts to recruit members and scheduled another apocalypse for the next year. These were the result of an effect he termed “cognitive dissonance”, dissonance that arises when facts counter your beliefs.


While certainly an extreme example, it is this exact same psychological phenomenon that is being used to explain why people today are so willing to believe fake news.

Michael Shermer is author of ‘The Believing Brain’ and Editor-in-Chief of ‘The Skeptic’, based in California. He told HuffPost UK:





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