How to Handle Media Hypnosis and Cognitive Dissonance

This morning, I read an interview with a cognitive behavior professor named Steven Sloman (via Robert Cialdini) that hit me like a brick to the head.

The content of the article is fascinating and questions the assumptions and roots of our own intelligence. What "hit" me, however, was the bit at the end about personalized news feeds creating and reinforcing an intellectual echo chamber. More specifically, I was reminded that an episode of my favorite television show predicted this happening back in November 1967.

"Speed Learn" 

In this episode, the education process is televised to hypnotically indoctrinate viewers with new information. The process is called "Speed Learn" in which a three-year university-level history course is absorbed via three minutes of television. The protagonist of the show realizes this technology can be used for mass mind control and becomes determined to destroy the technology.

It is absolutely incredible to me that a 50-year-old television show so presciently predicted that we would have wholeheartedly bought into today's version of "Speed Learn." Instead of a television, we have computer screens. Instead of hypnosis-induced indoctrination, we have personalized social media and news feeds. We have access to information about nearly anything in the world at any moment and we are generally unqualified to evaluate that information--not to mention our inability to retain so much information accurately.

Fighting Cognitive Dissonance

In the aforementioned Sloman interview, he states, "Even if I want to understand what the other side sees, Google is constantly feeding me things I want to see." Effectively, he is saying that cognitive bias and cognitive dissonance are unavoidable for anyone consuming information and news on the internet. What are we to do?

Sloman says, "People who are more reflective are less susceptible to the illusion. There are some simple questions you can use to measure reflectivity. They tend to have this form: How many animals of each kind did Moses load onto the ark? Most people say two, but more reflective people say zero. (It was Noah, not Moses who built the ark.)" 

How do we become reflective? Self-awareness can come via internal audit exercises like thought labeling, mindfulness meditation, and separation of ourselves from our thoughts.

Try asking yourself some of these questions as you inform yourself.

  • From what sources do I receive information about the world around me?
  • Why do I assign these sources credibility?
  • How might these sources be providing bias?
  • How does my belief system about a topic lead me to believe the information I'm consuming?
  • Am I qualified to evaluate the information?


If you want to further your pursuit of this information, here are some resources we use in our Pause course:

We are offering self-awareness courses, too! You should sign up for one.