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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 25, Issue 3

Books Roundup: Creating Convictions

Three books explore why we believe and how to become a skeptic
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Why do some adults believe in creationism despite incredible evidence against it? In Believing: The Neuroscience of Fantasies, Fears, and Convictions (Prometheus Books, 2013), psychiatry professor Michael McGuire reports that our brain is designed to create beliefs, even misinformed ones, about the world in which we live. These attitudes often form outside our conscious control and profoundly bias how we think and behave. By understanding the pitfalls of this system, McGuire hopes we can learn to question, even change, our ideas.

Unearthing our inner skeptic, however, may be difficult, especially in the face of increasingly sophisticated and persuasive neuromarketing strategies. In The Brain Sell: When Science Meets Shopping (Nicholas Brealey, 2014), psychologist and neuromarketing expert David Lewis gives us the inside scoop on how advertisers manipulate our emotions, using smells, colors, catchy slogans, unconscious biases and even subliminal messaging, to get us to buy things. For instance, Starbucks tries to play on our emotions, not necessarily a love of quality coffee, by creating a “feeling of warmth and community,” writes CEO Howard Schultz. The best way to combat these strategies, Lewis says, is simply to be aware of them.

But being aware is not enough. In Think: Why You Should Question Everything (Prometheus Books, 2013), journalist Guy Harrison says we must also become skeptics. Harrison discusses how everyone carries personal biases, engages in flawed thinking and has imperfect memory recall, which is why employing critical-thinking strategies is crucial. Learning to question our perceptions and do our own research, Harrison says, is not only good for our brain. It also helps us resist manipulation and make more reasoned judgments.

This article was originally published with the title "Roundup: Creating Convictions."

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