Do Not Believe Everything You Think

Post by Dana Starken

Many people have made up their mindsets and are not willing to be persuaded. This makes it hard for scientists to convey information that truly penetrates one’s mind. There are several reasons why this is true. Core beliefs, working memory, and how the information is presented all play a part in mindset toward new information. There are ways for scientists to illustrate their information that make it easier for the intended audience to understand.

On the top half of the page, two light bulbs represent ideas trying to enter the image of the brain (via arrows), but they are blocked by pieces of text reading “working memory” and “core ideas”. On the bottom half of the page, two light bulbs represent ideas flowing freely (via arrows) into the brain image with the help of pieces of text reading “plain language” and the “3Ms”.
The brain has a harder time accepting information when new ideas are blocked by the capacity of working memory and core beliefs. With the use of plain language and the 3 Ms, the brain has a much easier time accepting new concepts. Credit: Dana Starken ©2021

Core beliefs are ideas that someone has developed from childhood and are reinforced with life experience. They are very strong beliefs which is what makes them hard to persuade. Working memory only has a limited amount of storage, especially when someone is unfamiliar with a topic. This makes it hard to retain information and even more so for new topics. Plain language and the 3 Ms of messaging are some examples of ways scientists can better their information for the audience’s understanding.

Everyone has their own world view so when they are presented with new information, their brains have to process it according to how it fits their view. If the information matches their view, it is processed much easier. If the new concept would crumble their worldview, the brain proceeds with the backfire effect which is the brain’s way of rejecting the information. Core beliefs are what make up someone’s worldview. These beliefs are deeply engrained in the brain and when they are threatened, the brain responds the same way it would when someone is faced with a physical threat (1). Studies have shown that the brain uses more energy when trying to resist information that contradicts the person’s core beliefs (2). Therefore, with the proper tools, it would actually be easier for people to accept new information and change their core beliefs. Working memory can pose a problem when presented with new information as well. A person’s working memory is the area of the brain that stores new information to be processed. There is limited space in the working memory. The more one knows about a subject, the more information they can retain regarding that subject (3).

With the help of some communication tools, scientists can help audiences absorb the information they present. Information is harder to accept when one cannot fully understand it. The best way to fix this problem is to limit the amount of jargon one uses when describing an idea. Jargon is a term used for words that are specific to that field of study or topic. Rather than using jargon, scientists should use plain language. Plain language is using words that the general population could understand. With plain language, the information is more palatable, and the audience is more accepting of it. Another helpful tool is the 3 Ms of messaging. The 3 Ms are miniature, memorable, and meaningful. The miniature should have 3 key points outlining the concept. This could be the problem, the solutions, and why it matters. The memorable section could be something like a story to help describe the topic being discussed in a way that helps the audience remember and understand. The message needs to have a meaningful aspect that results from the audience truly understanding the topic. This could mean the audience starts to care more about the topic based on what was presented because the message was meaningful enough.     

As described, there are methods used in scientific communication that allow scientists to convey their information more efficiently and effectively. Although it is most people’s natural instinct to reject information that does not coincide with their worldview, scientists can influence how much information they absorb. With the use of plain language and the 3 Ms, it is much easier for people to accept and retain information presented to them.


Dana Starken is an undergraduate in the Department of Zoology and Physiology at the University of Wyoming.

references

1. You’re not going to believe what I’m about to tell you (classroom-friendly version) [Internet]. The Oatmeal. [cited 2021 Nov 22]. Available from: https://theoatmeal.com/comics/believe_clean

2.  Kaplan JT, Gimbel SI, Harris S. Neural correlates of maintaining one’s political beliefs in the face of counterevidence. Sci Rep. 2016 Dec 23;6(1):39589.

3. Lupia, A. 2013. Communicating science in politicized environments. PNAS 110(suppl.3): 14048-14054. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1212726110.

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