WIREs Cognitive Science 1 (forthcoming)

Authors
Nicolas Porot
University of Antwerp
Eric Mandelbaum
CUNY Graduate Center
Abstract
The empirical study of belief is emerging at a rapid clip, uniting work from all corners of cognitive science. Reliance on belief in understanding and predicting behavior is widespread. Examples can be found, inter alia, in the placebo, attribution theory, theory of mind, and comparative psychological literatures. Research on belief also provides evidence for robust generalizations, including about how we fix, store, and change our beliefs. Evidence supports the existence of a Spinozan system of belief fixation: one that is automatic and independent of belief rejection. Independent research supports the existence of a system of fragmented belief storage: one that relies on large numbers of causally isolated, context-sensitive stores of belief in memory. Finally, empirical and observational data support at least two systems of belief change. One system adheres, mostly, to epistemological norms of updating; the other, the psychological immune system, functions to guard our most centrally held beliefs from potential inconsistency with newly formed beliefs. Refining our under- standing of these systems can shed light on pressing real-world issues, such as how fake news, propaganda, and brainwashing exploit our psychology of belief, and how best to construct our modern informational world.
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