Many people have false beliefs.

The fact that they have those shows that those beliefs may carry some evolutionary advantage.

If so, how?

How can false beliefs be profitable?


2 Answers 2


I guess it depends on what you mean by "false beliefs". If you mean beliefs such as magical thinking, illusory patterns, superstitious beliefs, etc, then the following may help.

From an evolutionary perspective, Foster and Koko (2009) argue that false beliefs such as superstitious thoughts/rituals may arise due to the consequence of making a false-negative error (i.e. dismissing a real pattern) being potentially dire, while making a false-positive error (identifying a non-existant pattern) may have little consequence at all.

A psychological explanation that is popular is the formation of false-beliefs as a means of gaining control over ones environment. Keinan (2002) proposes three ways in which engaging in false-beliefs may improve one's sense of control:

  1. these beliefs may provide an explanatory power over perhaps
    inexplicable events, making the environment seem predictable and

  2. false-beliefs may appear to provide a means of controlling a situation, such as engaging in a superstitious ritual;

  3. engaging in false-beliefs may create a self-fulfilling prophecy (the person's faith in their beliefs may make them more optimistic of the situation, reduce their stress, and subsequently improve their performance).

  • $\begingroup$ Would you say then that belief system, instead of being some "evolutionary advantage" are a byproduct of our cognitive abilities? I mean, for me saying that our religious beliefs carry some evolutionary advantage would be like saying that the smog of my car has some mobility advantage. Combustion does, but not smog. $\endgroup$ Jun 6, 2019 at 22:46

I proposed people have false beliefs for lying.

For example, an insurance agent may say that their product is good even though their product is bad.

Here, the false beliefs, if it is false, only hurt the customers. The insurance agent doesn't lose money if the customers buy the overpriced product.

The difference between false beliefs and lying is thin. Here, because the insurance agent is not losing money anyway, the insurance agent then truly believe the lie so he can more convincingly convince others of the lie.

Most false believes in democratic countries can be thought of as a way to convince people of certain beliefs.

For example, all proponents of Trump believe that Trump is innocent while all opponents of Trump believe that Trump colludes with Russians.

Here, neither truly care about the truth and no evidence will convince them otherwise. They just believe whatever idea that serves their political interests.

This is not the same with "lying". With normal lying, the "secret" will go out. The "liars" truly believe their lies so they can more easily convince the swing voters.

Another sample is how useful IQ is for success. The answer is of course yes. However, the left will think that IQ is not essential for success so they can demand bigger governments for teachers' budget.

The right will say that the poor are poor because they are lazy. The idea that most people simply don't have the right genes to success is not entertained because it's politically incorrect.


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