Tuesday 25 June 2019

Gina London: 'The truth is out there - but be careful it's not an illusion'

US President Donald Trump with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Reuters
US President Donald Trump with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Reuters

Gina London

What would you do if you had the power to control minds? Play the Lotto? Bet the Horses? Ask for that pay rise?

Last week, before addressing the press here in Ireland, Donald Trump spoke at a press conference in Britain and falsely pronounced he hadn't seen any protests against him; rather only thousands and thousands of people on the streets of London cheering.

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This would seem like comical fiction except for one thing. Recent research indicates our brain's neural pathways become more susceptible to prolonged deception.

After years of performing with the World Wrestling Federation and reality TV, Trump understands the 'illusory truth effect' - if you repeat a lie enough times, many people will come to believe it.

Not everyone is susceptible, obviously. Several news reporters stood amidst the sea of protesters in Trafalgar Square and defiantly tweeted the truth back to Trump: "There are thousands of people demonstrating against you right now."

I don't want to spend time trying to unpack what is going on in the mind of the US president.

Someone who deliberately strives to alter the truth to mislead others and put their own goals and ego over the trust of others has a different agenda than I hope you do.

But, exploring the notion of mind control and what might be going on in your minds, is absolutely worth my time. So, here we go.

Just two points today. But these are my two most powerful recommendations, as they are the fulcrum for every communication at every time, everywhere.

1 Be careful what others tell you

First off, consider the process you go through to dismiss what someone else says.

Not just when you're told something by a boss or a co-worker that frustrates, annoys, belittles or confounds you, but even when you're told nearly anything at all. Even once.

Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert contends that to separate truth from fiction, our brain initially must first accept the false statement in order to properly engage and analyse it.

Only after that, do we take the necessary second step, of either mentally agreeing or disagreeing with the assertion. Whatever it is.

Furthermore, even if you tell yourself to reject something, the notion can still stick around.

The Journal of Applied Psychology published the findings of an experiment which examined whether jury members could truly disregard evidence a judge ordered thrown out as 'inadmissible'.

Regardless of the judge's dismissal, each juror retained the bias of the evidence going into deliberations.

The rest of the evidence and the arguments during deliberations had to overcome the weight of the dismissed component for the jury to get past it. Fascinating implications.

Now, layer on a constant stream of lies told repeatedly. Call it post-truth, fake news or alternative facts, lie detection is strenuous work. Your brain can get fatigued with the process and give up.

2 Be mindful of what you tell yourself

Along the same lines, we can convince our brain to believe the untruths we may repeat about ourselves.

If you tell yourself something negative, even if it's not true to an objective observer, it can become your truth. This can be to our detriment - or, as the following very true story illustrates - to our favour.

A startled woman in a supermarket looked over to see an older man with a young boy. The child had just lifted the lid on a plastic candy container, scooped up two mounds of sweets in his bare hands and tossed them high above his head.

He shrieked in delight as the sweets rained down upon other shoppers who rushed to avoid the sugary shrapnel.

The grandfather looked down at the child saying in a controlled voice: "Easy, William, we won't be long."

Another outburst erupts from the produce aisle and an apple avalanche ensues. The woman hears the grandfather calmly say: "It's okay William. Just a couple more minutes and we'll be out of here. Hang in there."

They arrive at the checkout till together and now the little horror is throwing items out of the shopping trolley.

Grandfather says again in measured tones: "William, relax buddy, don't get upset. We'll be home in five minutes. Stay cool William."

Very impressed, the woman goes outside to where the grandfather is loading his groceries and the boy into the car.

She says: "I know it's none of my business, but you were amazing in there. I don't know how you did it.

"That whole time you kept your composure, and no matter how loud and disruptive he got, you calmly kept saying that things would be okay.

"William is very lucky to have you as his grandfather."

"Thanks," says the grandfather, "but I'm William - this little f****r's name is Kevin."

Okay, not a true story. Or is it? Separating fact from fiction - from others as well as yourself - is an arduous and ongoing endeavour.

But take it from William (and not Donald), you may not be able to control all minds, folks, but you can certainly make the effort to control yours.

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