Next week for the 80,000 Hours Podcast I'm interviewing Hugo Mercier, author of Not Born Yesterday: The Science of Who We Trust and What We Believe.
Hugo is a Cognitive Scientist, research director at the CNRS where here works with the 'Evolution and Social Cognition' team.
One of his research interests is how we evaluate communicated information.
Hugo argues that while many people believe that human beings are gullible and easily persuaded of false ideas, in fact people are surprisingly good at telling who is trustworthy, and generally aren't easily convinced of anything they don't already think.
That's because communication couldn't evolve among human unless it was beneficial to both the sender and receiver of information. If the receiver generally lost out, they would stop listening entirely.
Given this outlook he's skeptical that social media and fake news are big drivers of our current problems.
He's also skeptical that advances in AI or LLMs will make it easy to persuade large numbers of people of things they aren't already inclined to believe.
(Of course we do have systemic weaknesses — one he points out is we're bad at detecting when what looks like two independent sources of information is actually just one source of information.)
Blinkist summaries the top 6 messages of 'Not Born Yesterday' as:
- When deciding what to believe, we seek out beliefs that speak to our goals and match our views.
- Individuals with common goals have no incentive to send unreliable communication signals.
- Open vigilance mechanisms have evolved to help us accept beneficial messages and reject harmful ones.
- We rely on prior beliefs and reasoning to evaluate the plausibility of communicated information.
- We depend on intuition to decide if others are more competent or better informed.
- Fake news doesn't usually mislead people - it justifies actions they were going to do anyway.
What should I ask him?