Here’s an intriguing little cognitive psychology experiment, which shows that highly educated people evaluate the truth or falsehood of statements less quickly and less accurately if those statements are ones that appear true under a “naive” theory, but which education teaches us are actually false (e.g., “Humans are descended from chimpanzees”,
“The Earth revolves around the sun.”). This suggests that pre-existing false ideas aren’t “overwritten” by education, they’re merely “suppressed”.
I wonder if something similar can explain the persistence of certain zombie ideas. Is it just inherently difficult to unlearn the first thing we ever learn about a topic, as I suggested in this old post? So that, if the first idea you ever learn about a topic is false (say, you’re taught the IDH as an undergrad), you become a zombie and it becomes very difficult to cure you? And if so, what can we do about it (besides make sure that our undergrad curricula are up to date)?
Presumably there’s a lot of research on this I’m not aware of.
p.s. Depressingly, rates of correct responses were lowest, and speed of response slowest, for questions about evolution (questions fell into 10 different subject areas across the physical and life sciences).
UPDATE: Error in first paragraph now fixed.