I study the ways that memory and belief go awry: How do we come to believe that things are true—even when they are not? How can we remember things that never actually happened? To what extent can we correct myths and false beliefs, or even protect ourselves from succumbing to them in the first place?

 

These are the questions I try to answer, by understanding the cognitive mechanisms that lead people to adopt—and hold on to—widely-disseminated myths and personal false beliefs and memories.  When people assess truth, memory, credibility and trust, they are unwittingly  influenced by tangential evidence and fleeting experiences of familiarity or cognitive fluency.

One kind of tangential evidence is what my colleagues and I call truthiness (after Stephen Colbert). Truthiness, said Colbert, is "truth that comes from the gut and not books."  In our research, we define truthiness as the process by which ordinary, intelligent people are swayed by tangentially related, pseudoevidence that leads them to believe that a claim is true.

Beyond understanding the mechanisms that cause memory and belief to go awry, I also address the applied issues that fall out of these metacognitive processes—how we evaluate science and how we evaluate evidence, in the courtroom and in our day-to-day experiences, as students, teachers, and as we are going about our lives.

Stephen Colbert on "Truthiness"
Stephen Colbert on our "Truthiness" Research