The One-Sentence Summary

Misinformation appeals to something innate in all of us, but awareness of the forces that fuel misbelief can make us more resilient to its allure.

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  • The author became victim to a number of conspiracy theories and decided to research the phenomenon of misbelief – essentially trying to answer the question: How could that person believe that thing?
  • Misbelief describes a distorted lens through which people begin to view the world, reason about it, and describe it to others.
  • He outlines The Funnel of Misbelief with four stages:
  1. Emotional: we all experience stress, which negatively impacts cognitive function and decision-making. When that compounds, we feel hard done by and feel that the pain is being inflicted intentionally. Picking a villain offers a way to regain control, usually pointing to stories that have a morally repulsive theme, which fuels hate.
  2. Cognitive: these elements then lead people deeper into misbelief. Faulty cognitive structures make us susceptible to misinformation and confirmation bias makes us look for things to confirm our suspicions. Once we believe it, we work hard to convince others that it is true.
  3. Personality: some are more susceptible to misbelief than others – for example, those prone to misremembering, false recall, and false recognition. This is linked to seeing patterns where none exist (also called patternicity), narcissism, magical ideation, openness to absorbing, and perceptual aberration.
  4. Social: social forces play a powerful role, starting with social attraction. Ostracism from one group leads to a sense of belonging in a new community. Social maintenance follows, followed by acceleration when people are deep in the funnel.
  • The mind is a rather odd informationgathering and sense-making tool. It is not the objective tool we think it is.


  • Stressed people suffer from a scarcity mindset and don’t think clearly. Unpredictable stress leads to learned helplessness. One of the reasons that stress accumulates is that we are not good at identifying where it comes from. This is called misattribution of emotions.
  • Secure attachment means we are sure about what we believe, which gives us more resilience against misbelief.
  • When talking to a misbeliever, deep canvassing works best. Start by asking sensitive questions, listening to the answers with real interest, and not counterarguing from the start, which doesn’t work and makes them dig their heels in even more.
  • A razor is a heuristic, or cognitive shortcut, that can help to quickly ‘shave’ away unnecessary information and complexity to get more quickly to the truth.
    1. Hanlon’s razor: Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by human fallibility.
    2. Occam’s razor: The simplest explanation is the one we should favour, until it is proven inadequate.
    3. Hitchens’ razor: What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.
  • The Socratic method poses a hypothesis and then challenges it, either by seeking alternative explanations or by testing whether it is falsifiable. It is at its strongest when written down rather than spoken.
  • Biased search is that which only reveals part of the universe of available information. All misbelievers use this.
  • We all practice motivated reasoning – the tendency to bend reality around us to fit the conclusion we want to reach. This is often accompanied by solution aversion, as in: “There’s nothing that will persuade me.”
  • We think we understand personality traits, but personality states is a better way to describe them. They are temporary changes in personality that occur in particular circumstances and change us in substantial ways. Road rage for example.
  • Biased samples are common in researching misbelievers because people with the most extreme opinions don’t participate because they don’t trust the people conducting it or the results.
  • “Human beings are pattern-seeking animals who will prefer even a bad theory or a conspiracy theory to no theory at all.” Christopher Hitchens


  • If you have read a lot of social science books already, many of the theories will be familiar, although it is interesting to see a number of the old standards applied specifically to the phenomenon of misbelief.