Quirks and Quarks

Why 'Useful Delusions' can sometimes make us vulnerable to misinformation

The host of the Hidden Brain podcast argues in his book 'Useful Delusions: The Power and Paradox of the Self-Deceiving Brain' that in some contexts, delusions can be a good thing.

Our brain doesn't always help us see reality as it is, argues the author of 'Useful Delusions'

Delusional thinking arises from our brains' natural tendency to quickly make a model of the world based on a fraction of the information it takes in. Some delusions help us function, others threaten our health, environment and democracies. (Rick Loomis/Getty Images)

It doesn't matter whether it's politics, science or public health, we seem to be living in an infodemic, in which viral misinformation is leading to an increasing number of people to fall victim to delusional thinking. 

False beliefs can threaten our health, environment and even democracies, and yet, science journalist Shankar Vendantam argues that science suggests that in some contexts, delusions can not only be a good thing, but are a necessary part of human psychology and cognition.

(Penguin Random House Canada)

Shankar Vendantam is the host of the podcast and radio show, Hidden Brain, and the co-author of the book Useful Delusions: The Power and Paradox of the Self-Deceiving Brain. 

In an interview with Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald, he said a great example of a useful delusion is the way. parents think about their children who they nearly universally believe to be smarter, better looking, more gifted and kinder than they actually are. 

As parenting is hard, time-consuming and expensive,  Vendantam argues these delusions can be functional, since these beliefs about their children make people better parents.

The tendency of our brains, however, in the context of rampant misinformation coming at us from all directions, has led to dangerous delusions for some people, including that COVID-19 isn't real, or that vaccines aren't safe, or that climate change is a hoax.

A protester with a flare poses holding a sign calling for people to "wake up" during a protest on in London, England in March 2021. False beliefs are often fueled by misinformation online. (Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

Produced and written by Sonya Buyting. Click on the link at the top of the page to hear the interview with Shankar Vendantam.