U.S. comedian Stephen Colbert is praising psychology researchers in Canada and New Zealand for lending credence to his concept of "truthiness."
The satirist and host of The Colbert Report coined the word seven years ago to describe "the truth that you feel in your gut regardless of what the facts support."
He used the idea to poke fun at modern politics, where emotion and rhetoric often trump hard evidence. But it turns out there might be some truth to truthiness.
In a study published in the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, psychologists at the University of Victoria, Surrey's Kwantlen Polytechnic University and Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand found that people are more likely to believe a claim - whether it's true or not - when it's accompanied by a photograph.
In one experiment, students were shown the names of celebrities. One group was asked to answer "true" or "false" to the claim: "This famous celebrity is alive." A second group was asked to respond to the claim: "This famous celebrity is dead."
The study found that the students were more likely to answer "true" to either claim if they were also shown a picture of the celebrity.
In another experiment, people were more likely to answer "true" to statements of trivia, such as "turtles are deaf" if they were shown a picture of a turtle.
Former UVic doctoral student Justin Kantner, one of the report's authors, said researchers suspect that the photographs allow people to think about a claim in a more detailed way, which makes it seem more true.
"The photo shouldn't help you make that decision at all - because it doesn't tell you anything about the claim itself," said Kantner, now on a fellowship at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Fellow author Stephen Lindsay, a UVic professor, said the research illustrates that people need to be aware of how their decisions can be biased by things that rationally should have no impact. "People who are aware of those kinds of biases may be able to take steps to mitigate their influence," he said.
Colbert hailed the research last week in a segment he called "Who's honouring me now?" His only problem with the scientific study, he said, was that it relied on science.
"Folks, you can't prove truthiness with information," he said.
"You prove truthiness with more truthiness in a process known as truthinessiness." But that's a subject for future research. email@example.com
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