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Challenging Your Assumptions and the Psychology of Fake News with Dr. Gregory Feist

“Learning is about changing what we know. We all have assumptions; we all have ideas. The art of education is challenging those assumptions we make,” Dr. Gregory Feist.

What Dr. Feist loves about teaching Intro Psych is that the students who come in a fresh, typically out of high school, and it’s an opportunity to open students’ eyes (as well as have his opened as well) to the world around them. In this Psych-Ed Talk, Dr. Feist talks about why he feels that his job, as an educator, is to teach the art and science of challenging assumptions, teaching the “how” of knowledge and not just the “what”, helping students understand what fake news really is and how to spot it, and finally teaching students logic and logical fallacies.

To begin, Dr. Feist outlines what the difference is between teaching the “what” of knowing vs the “how”.

  • The “What” of Knowing is imparting knowledge. “We are trying to expose students to what scientists and scholars have discovered and learned about how the world works.”
  • The “How” of Knowing is the creative process of discovery and verification. “Students (and we) need to internalize: Don’t believe everything you think and always ask “how do we know?”

Dr. Feist believes there are ways to teach with the “how” of knowing in mind which includes:

  • Have students consider ‘How strong is that evidence?
  • Have students consider ‘How do we/they know that?’
  • Teach the limits of perception, attention, and memory (S&P, Memory, Consciousness, Learning)—we assume these things are valid, but in psychology can we teach students about the interesting allusions and limitations such as:
    • Things are not always what we see, hear, or remember
    • We can only focus on one thing at a time; attention is limited
    • Learning and memory are limited during multi-tasking
  • Understanding the difference between fact and opinion
  • Have students consider ‘what are the strengths and weaknesses of that idea?’
  • Teach fallacies of reasoning and cognitive biases

As Dr. Feist continues in this Psych-Ed Talk, he moves into Fake News: The Age of Mis- and Dis-Information and the idea that “wanting people to believe things that aren’t true is older than (modern) humanity.” Students are often confused about what really is fake and there are three distinct types of information students should be aware of:

  1. Negative Information: information that reports something negative about someone or something.
  2. Misinformation: information that is mistaken, wrong, or deceived. This is where students really get confused. But misinformation is not really fake; it’s just wrong or not correct.
  3. Disinformation: information that is intentionally manipulated by some person or group to get others to believe something they know is not true. This is fake news.

We are all easy victims of misinformation or disinformation, especially when it is on a topic we like or agree with. So, Dr. Feist provides general tips on how to spot fake news:

  • Rule out satire, gossip, rumor, and/or pseudoscience
  • Consider the source
  • Read beyond the headline
  • Check the author
  • Look at the support
  • Check for inconsistent dates
  • Check your biases
  • Consult the experts (legitimate news sources and sites like Snopes or FactCheck)

Finally, Dr. Feist ends his Psych-Ed Talk discussing the importance of teaching students logic and fallacies of logic. People who commit logical fallacies often don’t know they’re doing this because they don’t know what fallacies are. To demonstrate fallacies, he uses referee memes to show ad hominems, attempted proof by intimidation, echo chambers, false dichotomy, and circular logic.