A leading social researcher explains why humans so consistently misunderstand the outside world
How often are women harassed? What percentage of the population are immigrants? How bad is unemployment? These questions are important, but most of us get the answers wrong. Research shows that people often wildly misunderstand the state of the world, regardless of age, sex, or education. And though the internet brings us unprecedented access to information, there's little evidence we're any better informed because of it.
We may blame cognitive bias or fake news, but neither tells the complete story. In Why We're Wrong About Nearly Everything, Bobby Duffy draws on his research into public perception across more than forty countries, offering a sweeping account of the stubborn problem of human delusion: how society breeds it, why it will never go away, and what our misperceptions say about what we really believe.
We won't always know the facts, but they still matter. Why We're Wrong About Nearly Everything is mandatory reading for anyone interested making humankind a little bit smarter.
Duffy, Policy Institute director at King's College London, puts his 20 years of research into opinion formation to good use in this illuminating first book. Through cogent analysis, made accessible through charts and anecdotes, he thoroughly examines "general and widespread delusions about individual, social, and political realities." The book divides misperceptions into two categories: mistakes people make in their own thinking, and mistakes originating in what they are told by others, both by authority figures and the media, and by friends, family, and colleagues. Within these categories, Duffy's examples of things people often get wrong range from the trivial, such as whether the Great Wall of China is visible from space (it isn't), to the consequential, such as whether violent crime is on the rise (a single high-profile case can make people think it is, even when crime rates are actually declining). While addressing such well-known conceptual pitfalls as the inherent "bias toward information that confirms what we already believe," Duffy avoids pessimism. He focuses on the things everyone can do to change how they process information, such as learning not to focus on extreme examples, or improving critical reading abilities. The result is a well-informed breath of intellectual fresh air about how best to avoid misunderstanding the world.