Why We Believe Popular Ideas

Popular beliefs shape our perception of reality. The more people believe an idea is true, the truer it appears.

The authenticity in cuisine is often misconstrued—cultures, after all, have been altered by global influences since the past few centuries. For instance, the mass media has done a good job in portraying tomato sauce as an authentic cuisine in Italy, when in fact it originated in Mexico. Tomato only reached Europe after the Spaniards’ conquest of the Aztec empire in Mexico in 1521. The same applies to Swiss cocoa and Poland potatoes.

This psychological effect is deleterious when deployed for malevolent intent, such as one exercised by Joseph Goebbels, a Nazi propaganda minister. In 1943, as the war in Germany turned to be worse, he delivered a rhetoric speech to a crowd and asked “Do you want total war? If necessary, do you want a war more total and radical than anything that we can even imagine today?” The crowd roared.

In the marketing division, similar ploys can be attempted by using a symbol most people trust, such as a white lab coat. A product featuring a white lab coat automatically inherits all the credibility and prestige of experts usually seen in a lab. This is further supported by numerous studies, which found that the image of medical or scientific authority (i.e. white lab coat implies “expert”) can influence consumers’ behavior, positively or negatively, based on consumers’ acceptance of physicians.

It is easy to succumb to the hype. Partly, we can ascribe the fallacy to our laziness to probe.