work life
October 25, 2022

Repetition Bias

I have been in an office where false statements were turned into truths, and it always blows my mind when it happens.

Joel’s story is the story of how to turn a false statement into a truth.

And This is how it goes.


I was in a meeting where Joel shared his idea. He was enthusiastic but his idea had no legs, so it landed flat. There were badly held back groans, and an immediate desire to move on to the next person. A few people responded politely but the idea went nowhere. It was truly a bad idea.

It’s ok. We all have bad ideas.

For most of us, this is where the story ends. If it was our idea we’d likely let it go. But not Joel. Not this time at least.

Because Joel had an agenda. Maybe he lacked some awareness, but above all he was determined. So he went around each and every person in the meeting, setting one-on-ones to workshop his idea. Most people listened. A couple of people tried their best to find anything good inside Joel’s bad idea. Some gave small suggestions.

Then in your next group meeting, Joel shared a rehash of his first idea. The same thing but slightly different. He even incorporated some suggestions from people he talked to. The last time you could feel the room pushing back on the idea, this time nobody seems that affected. Most people moved on without much concern.

In the next few weeks, Joel brought up his proposal a few more times, indifferent meetings, and in different contexts. Some people referred to it as “Joel’s approach.” Joel’s crazy idea had moved from being ignored to being recognized, even if not adopted.

And then the thing that blew my mind happened. Some other people brought up the idea in meetings. What seemed like a nonsense suggestion slowly became “plan B”. Some people used Joel’s plan B as a way to turn down plan A, which they never liked to begin with. Some people who didn’t feel their ideas were heard saw in “plan B” a new chance to exert influence.

In front of my own eyes, I saw an unpopular underground idea become mainstream.

Overexposure has a way of giving validity to ideas. It is a form of exposure bias, and all it takes is repetition.

This is called the Illusory truth effect.

The illusory truth effect is the tendency to believe false information to be correct after repeated exposure.

And works like this:

When truth is assessed, people rely on whether the information is in line with their understanding or if it feels familiar. The first condition is logical, as people compare new information with what they already know to be true. Repetition makes statements easier to process relative to new, unrepeated statements, leading people to believe that the repeated conclusion is more truthful.

Repetition can turn a false into a truth and a truth into a false.

Humans like mental shortcuts. We rely on them to make decisions. A mind shortcut saves us time, and we are lazy and like to save time.

There is a black hat management/physiological technique here in which I’d say:

“Repeat a statement you want people to believe multiple times and people will eventually believe it (if you repeat it enough times) whether it’s true or not.”

The white hat technique is

“If you want to get momentum behind your ideas, especially controversial ones, socialize the idea with many people and make sure the group you need to convince has been exposed to it repeatedly multiple times.”

The power of repetition is one of the most mind-blowing discoveries of my professional career.

Use it for good.

October 25, 2022 · #work life


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