Your Lying Mind

We’re hardwired to delude ourselves, science suggests. What can we do about it?

Illustration of a brain with flags in it
Concept by Delcan & Co; photograph by The Voorhes

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In her 2017 article “This Article Won’t Change Your Mind,” my colleague Julie Beck asks a social psychologist: “What would get someone to change their mind about a false belief that is deeply tied to their identity?”

The answer? “Probably nothing.”

We’re generally okay at admitting we’re wrong about small matters, where the evidence is right in front of us. For example, Julie explains, if you thought it was going to be nice outside but then discover that it’s raining, you’ll grab an umbrella before you walk out the door. But if your false belief is tied to your identity or how you see the world, “then people become logical Simone Bileses, doing all the mental gymnastics it takes to remain convinced that they’re right.”

It doesn’t help that our mind is constantly tricking us. Faulty ways of thinking seem to be hardwired into the human brain, as the writer Ben Yagoda noted in 2018. Wikipedia has a standalone “List of cognitive biases,” whose more than 100 entries include the Zeigarnik effect (“uncompleted or interrupted tasks are remembered better than completed ones”) and the IKEA effect (“the tendency for people to place a disproportionately high value on objects that they partially assembled themselves.”)

A hundred or so biases have been repeatedly shown to exist in the human mind, and, Yagoda writes, they might be impossible to get rid of. Or at least near-impossible: He tried several different methods to see if he could weaken his own biases, and the results were mixed.

In her piece, Julie offers some tips to help us try to lovingly change others’ minds. But we’re probably better off starting with ourselves; we’ve got powerful, self-deluding minds to contend with.

On Deluding Ourselves

An image of two water glasses with different volumes
Concept by Delcan & Co; photograph by The Voorhes

The Cognitive Biases Tricking Your Brain

By Ben Yagoda

Science suggests we’re hardwired to delude ourselves. Can we do anything about it?

John Garrison

This Article Won’t Change Your Mind

By Julie Beck

The facts on why facts alone can’t change beliefs

A person reading a newspaper with a smiley face on it upside-down
Jan Buchczik

Changing Your Mind Can Make You Less Anxious

By Arthur C. Brooks

Humans are programmed to think we’re right at all costs. Fighting that instinct will set you free.

Still Curious?

Other Diversions


In December, my colleague Elaine Godfrey expressed an opinion that might have many of you reaching for all the persuasive tools you’ve got: She hates skiing. (And this opinion does seem quite tied to her sense of identity, so chances are she will not be swayed.)

— Isabel