Then there’s the “cognitive fluency” of a statement – essentially, whether it tells a good, coherent story that is simple to imagine. “If something feels smooth and easy to process, then our default is to expect things to be true,” says Newman. This is particularly true if a myth easily fits with our expectations. “It has to be sticky – a nugget or soundbite that links to what you know, and reaffirms your beliefs,” agrees Stephan Lewandowsky at the University of Bristol in the UK, whose work has examined the psychology of climate change deniers.
A slick presentation will instantly boost the cognitive fluency of a claim, while raising its believability. In one recent study, Newman presented participants with an article (falsely) saying that a well-known rock singer was dead. The subjects were more likely to believe the claim if the article was presented next to a picture of him, simply because it became easier to bring the singer to mind – boosting the cognitive fluency of the statement. Similarly, writing in an easy-to-read font, or speaking with good enunciation, have been shown to increase cognitive fluency; indeed, Newman has shown that something as seemingly inconsequential as the sound of someone’s name can sway us; the easier it is to pronounce, the more likely we are to accept their judgement.