25 September 2015

What happens to your brain one hour after seeing a factually dubious infographic

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Infographics are a great way of presenting complex information in an easy-to-understand manner.

The Tube Map is a great example of a useful infographic. As is the Periodic Table. Or this map of places that are cheaper to live in than London, even if you work in London.

But infographics are also a good way of conealing poor research or worse, a good way to simply mislead people.

Just look at these from the Lib Dems, the kings and queens of shonky graphical data representation.

You’ve probably seen at least one infographic recently and thought “hmmm, that looks moody.” That’s probably because it is.

There was one about what Coke does to your insides which went viral, swiftly followed by an identical one about what a Big Mac does to your insides.

Both were dubiously sourced.

I love infographics. They’re a great way of sharing information. They’re also a great way of earning links, coverage and traffic. But if you’ve knocked something up just for that purpose, you’re conning your readers.

Infographic blog

What happens to your brain one hour after seeing a factually dubious infographic?

First 10 minutes…INTRIGUE

Your gullibility neutrons start firing

This facts in this infographic are asserted with such bombastic authority that you immediately share it on Facebook.


Your post gets a lot of attention. You feel clever, even though the content lacks credible sources.

Peer-approval causes your brain to release high levels of dopamine.

30 minutes…SUSPICION

Reddit users are reporting inaccuracies in the data.

Your gynus releases powerful “further investigation required’ hormones…

40 minutes…CONFUSION

Despite its inaccuracy, the infographic conforms to a popular narrative and goes viral.

In response, your brain’s powerful ‘debunking reflex’ immediately kicks in…

50 minutes…APATHY

You’ve stopped caring about the infographic now. It can’t be halted.

60 minutes…ADMIRATION

The claims in the content are now taken as fact and the author’s website has a wealth of high authority back links.

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