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30 May 2023

Walking to escape cognitive biases and fake news

«The brain is a machine for jumping to conclusions», wrote Daniel Kahneman, psychologist, and winner of the Nobel Prize for Economy. In psychology, cognitive biases are mental short-cuts that allow us to make decisions in a faster way, without effort. They can be good but also bring us to jump to wrong conclusions. Cognitive biases are, in fact, what brings us to believe fake news. They make users of the Internet share a piece of news without even reading it but knowing just the title. The most famous short-cut is, in fact, the «confirmation bias», that makes us believe only what confirms our previous ideas.

Biases make us overestimate our judgements and feel like we will not make errors, because we believe we are the only ones that have true and insightful information. Nobody is safe from the influence of cognitive biases, not even digital natives. It is becoming harder to navigate the complex informative ecosystem of the Web. Even those who should be trained to do so cannot distinguish, for example, a sponsored content or an ad from an authentic piece of news. The use of the Internet has become faster, more fluid, and finally more uncritical. 

 For this reason, the artist collective HELLA LUX and the audio start up Story Dive, in the MediaFutures project imagined «Hammer&Egg», an immersive walk experience to understand how the biases influence our everyday life. These walks invite listeners to playfully interact with a story. «The real-world environment becomes the setting for a fictional narrative which addresses topics where they are particularly relevant – and thus tangible. The integration of real-world parameters into the audio walk medium opens up a range of topics such as data literacy, the design of public space and the local impact of global crises such as climate change», the creators said. 

The important part is that these walks are collective. People walk in groups through the streets of German cities. The experience shows how a collective experience can be positive, but dangerous at the same time. The walks show «how trust and a sense of belonging can be built and abused based on a seemingly shared experience».  They show us how human beings can be vulnerable, even smart or educated ones. The experience wants to highlight how we perceive and interpret information and explore how decisions are made. The walk will lead the participants down the streets of Hamburg, and the pathways of their own judgment, thought processes, and ways of thinking. «Like a mirror, our assumptions of the world around us paint a vivid picture of how we judge our environment, and this project aims to start a reflective process that can lead to more caution and humility in the decision-making process. As misinformation is not always easy to spot Hammer&Egg aims to equip its listeners with the tools to identify misinformation, and to educate them in the ways in which the smallest change in phrasing or an out of context statement can influence the outcome of an interaction», added the creators. 

The two creators have always focused on social and political issues. HELLA LUX is a Germany based artist collective that develops performances, audio walks and installations with a focus on auditive experiences. Their work addresses a broad and diverse audience. 

SBAE stands for Situation Based Audio Experiences and creates immersive audio experiences for the real world. The startup supports companies, cultural and educational institutions, and artists in producing and publishing audio walks. Their main product is the Storydive App, the first platform for interactive audio walks, which is helpful for the work that they do with Hammer&Egg. 

Signed by Beatrice Offidani