Reasonable Doubt

The Psychology of Belief

How your brain distorts the world to support your emotional attachments to certain ideas

Kate Morgan
Published in
6 min readFeb 5, 2019

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Illustration: Hisham Akira Bharoocha

BBelief is a powerful and necessary thing, governing our societies, our day-to-day and inner lives, our thoughts, hopes, plans, and relationships. You believe that the plane will leave the runway, that working hard will lead to a promotion, that the candidate you support is the best one for the job. Some things you believe because a pattern of experience suggests you should: The sun has come up every morning so far, so why should tomorrow be any different?

But other things you believe even despite logic and evidence to the contrary: The next lottery ticket you buy will be the big one, you can feel it.

Belief is like that; some things you believe because you just do. No one, no matter how brilliant or how educated, is immune to irrational convictions, says Paul Zak, a neuroscientist at Claremont Graduate University. For example, “Linus Pauling was a two-time Nobel Prize winner, one of the most respected scientists ever, and he believed vitamin C was a cure-all for things and spent a lot of years pushing it despite being totally unsupported by medical evidence,” Zak says. “He was as smart as they come, but he deluded himself that this thing was true when…

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Kate Morgan
Forge
Writer for

Kate is a freelance journalist who’s been published by Popular Science, The New York Times, USA Today, and many more. Read more at bykatemorgan.com.