If people’s perceptions are based on what they believe is truth, does that make perception as important as reality itself? In this issue of Curiosity, we shine a spotlight on perception, how very often it differs from reality and why that is. If you haven't picked up a copy of Bobby Duffy's newly launched book, 'The Perils of Perception: How we're nearly wrong about everything', here's an excerpt to whet your appetite.
"Is the Great Wall of China visible from outer space? What do you think?
If you're anything like the population in general, there was about a 50-50 chance that you answered ‘yes’, as surveys show that half of people say they believe the Great Wall is visible from space. They’re wrong – it’s not. At its widest, the Great wall is only nine metres across, about the size of a small house. It’s also built of rock that is similar in colour to the surrounding mountains, so it blends in with the landscape.
When you take a bit of time to think about it, the idea that the Great Wall could be visible from space is actually slightly ridiculous. But there are some very good reasons why you might have thought it could be seen.
First, it’s not something you’ll have thought about a lot. Unlike me, you probably haven’t looked up the width of the Wall or the distance to outer space (and then got caught up in endless forum discussions about the claim). You don’t have the pertinent facts readily available to you.
Second, you may have vaguely heard someone say it when you weren’t paying much attention. You may even have seen it in print of heard it on the television. For years, Trivial Pursuit has it as an (incorrect) answer…”
The evidence from our multiple studies, and which are discussed in this book point to how our perceptions are impacted and coloured by a host of factors. We can begin to appreciate how fake news, both those with mischievous intentions and accidental ones have become an area of concern for our country leaders.
"Properly defined, (fake news) is way too small a concept. Our key misperceptions do not have their roots in entirely fabricated stories, created sometimes as a clickbait to earn money for the creators and publishers or for more sinister reasons...
... Even this limited use of the term has been undermined, mainly by the locus of many of the 'real' fake news stories, Donald Trump, as he helped turn it into an attack phrase for both the media in general and individual reports that opponents do not agree with..
... Our misperceptions are far from being just a 'fake news effect' - although we will look at the incredible reach and frightening level of belief in a few of the highest profile examples of actual fake news, to highlight the broader challenge of disinformation."
Our recent study among Singaporeans and Malaysians reveal that a large proportion of people are confident in their ability to identify fake news. But about half of them admit to having believed a piece of news was real only to discover later that it was untrue. In another recent study on Singaporeans' view of the Penal Code Section 377A, given the increased discussion in media and increased attention from events like Pink Dot, it was surprising to many that the slight majority of Singaporeans are supportive of 377A.
As Bobby surmises: "..there is no single cause (to our misperceptions), and there is definitely sufficient evidence to conclude that we're not just wrong about the world because our media or politics are misleading us. Out of ignorance and misperception of facts are long-standing and they persist in very different conditions over time and across countries.
..However, it provides a checklist to consider against each error: understanding the dominant reasons for why we're wrong on particular issues point to what we might be able to do about it."
As you ponder on some of your own (mis)perceptions, we hope you enjoy these reads!
- The Susceptibility of Singaporeans Towards Fake News
- Malaysians' Susceptibility Towards Fake News
- Same-Sex Relationships: Majority of Singaporeans Supportive of Penal Code 377A
- Global Attitudes Towards Transgender People
- The Perils of Perception: Why We're Wrong About Nearly Everything
(Foreword by Robert McPhedran, Associate Research Director, Public Affairs, Singapore)
- Get your copy of The Perils of Perception by Bobby Duffy at Amazon
Sr. Manager, Business Development & Marketing Communications