Insightful, convincing, instructive reading.

A sharp addition to the why-people-believe-weird-things genre.

An optimist and fine writer, van der Linden, professor of social psychology at the University of Cambridge and an expert on human belief systems, explains why humans accept something as true or false and how they can fend off misinformation. Leaning heavily on the metaphor of misinformation as a virus infecting the mind and spreading from one person to another, the author proclaims the need for an effective remedy, perhaps a psychological “vaccine” against fake news. He begins by explaining why we are susceptible, discusses how falsehoods persist, and then explains how to inoculate ourselves and others. Innumerable studies prove that debunking—i.e., pointing out the facts—almost never works. We must “prebunk” to fend off misinformation before it takes hold. Readers may squirm as the author shows how and why we accept nonsense. Humans embrace the familiar, so the easiest way to spread a lie is to keep repeating it. Despite the fact that there has been zero evidence to support their claims, roughly 75% of Trump voters “continue to believe that the 2020 elected was rigged.” If the moon landing was faked, 400,000 NASA employees would have had to be “complicit in the conspiracy.” True to his assertion that facts are feeble, van der Linden devotes the final chapters of this well-researched, psychologically astute book to the specific strategies of fakers (“Six Degrees of Manipulation”) and a powerful argument for the effectiveness of delivering a small dose of misinformation in order to inoculate against a major infection. Studies show that it works, and readers—or at least the 67% who are not suspicious of vaccines—can boost their immunity by playing a popular computer game that tests their ability to spread fake news. Google “bad news.” The author may be preaching to the choir, but it’s a message that bears repeating and continued deep consideration.

Insightful, convincing, instructive reading.

Pub Date: March 21, 2023

ISBN: 9780393881448

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2023



Perhaps not magic but appealing nonetheless.

Want to get ahead in business? Consult a dictionary.

By Wharton School professor Berger’s account, much of the art of persuasion lies in the art of choosing the right word. Want to jump ahead of others waiting in line to use a photocopy machine, even if they’re grizzled New Yorkers? Throw a because into the equation (“Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”), and you’re likely to get your way. Want someone to do your copying for you? Then change your verbs to nouns: not “Can you help me?” but “Can you be a helper?” As Berger notes, there’s a subtle psychological shift at play when a person becomes not a mere instrument in helping but instead acquires an identity as a helper. It’s the little things, one supposes, and the author offers some interesting strategies that eager readers will want to try out. Instead of alienating a listener with the omniscient should, as in “You should do this,” try could instead: “Well, you could…” induces all concerned “to recognize that there might be other possibilities.” Berger’s counsel that one should use abstractions contradicts his admonition to use concrete language, and it doesn’t help matters to say that each is appropriate to a particular situation, while grammarians will wince at his suggestion that a nerve-calming exercise to “try talking to yourself in the third person (‘You can do it!’)” in fact invokes the second person. Still, there are plenty of useful insights, particularly for students of advertising and public speaking. It’s intriguing to note that appeals to God are less effective in securing a loan than a simple affirmative such as “I pay all bills…on time”), and it’s helpful to keep in mind that “the right words used at the right time can have immense power.”

Perhaps not magic but appealing nonetheless.

Pub Date: March 7, 2023

ISBN: 9780063204935

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper Business

Review Posted Online: March 23, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2023


Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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