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beliefsBeliefs activities provide you with the opportunity to consider how identity and beliefs influence knowledge. These activities are centred around the theme Identities from the IB Language B curriculum which provides students with an opportunity to discover their interests, values, belief and culture.

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Members of the Flat Earth Society claim to believe the Earth is flat despite scientists explaining how we know the Earth is round since the third century B.C. Watch the video and answer the questions that follow. What three pieces of evidence explain why the Earth is not flat?

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1. By looking at the Sun’s position and comparing shadows that it casts in different places at the same time of day.
2. People can sail around the world.
3. The laws of gravity explain how a spherical planet would form with its mass attracting matter and space and building a shape outwards from the central core.

How do we know that the earth is round? One of the most famous images is called ‘The Blue Marble’. It was snapped in 1972 from a distance of about 18,000 miles by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft and it shows our planet as water and cloud covered sphere against the black backdrop of space. However, there are people who claim that this image is part of a vast conspiracy to trick people into believing that the Earth is round when in reality they say that it is flat as a pancake.

Members of a group know as the Flat Earth Society point to the visual horizon and say that since they can’t see the curve of the globe that the planet must be a flattened disc. How do we know that it is not? Well, no one has ever documented the edge of the Earth which ‘flat earthers’ say is ringed by a giant wall of ice and scientists have been explaining how the Earth is round since the 3rd century BC.

Earth is so big so that from a person’s vantage point on the ground the curvatures are impossible to see. But the ancient Greeks were able to see the Earth’s curve by looking at the Sun’s position and comparing shadows that it cast in different places at the same time of day. The laws of gravity also explain how a spherical planet would form with its mass attracting matter and space and building a shape outwards from the central core. And, on a spherical planet gravity’s pull from the centre is what keeps our feet on the ground. Not to mention that in the 16th Century Ferdinand Magellan sailed completely around the world which would have been impossible on a flat Earth surrounded by an icy wall.

Earth isn’t a perfect sphere more like an irregular shaped ellipsoid according to the national ocean service. For those arguing that it is pancake-shaped, that idea falls a little flat. The shape of the Earth just one of life’s little mysteries.

Human behaviour is influence by countless environmental factors. One such factor is peer pressure. Watch the video and then answer the questions that follow.

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Take a close look at the three lines on the right which line is the same size as the one on the left and how certain are you of your answer. Are you 50 per cent certain, ninety a hundred per cent? Well if you’re like most people and you take time to think this through you’d say line A if you take a close look line B and C are clearly too tall so line A is the obvious choice. But this isn’t a video about optical illusions. It’s a video about peer pressure. What happens when you clearly know that the answer is C, but everybody else is telling you that they got the answer A. When this test is done in a control group that is when there’s no peer pressure almost every single person gets it right. Line A is clearly too short and line B is clearly too tall. But when you add peer pressure things get interesting.

Now imagine that you’re in a room with nine other people you’re asked to compare the lines the same as before and you think that’s easy. It’s C. Then person one steps forward and announces that his answer is A. Your first response would probably be surprised how could he have gotten it wrong. The question is so easy in fact you might even feel a little superior at this point because you know his answer is wrong and you are right. But as a few more people step forward and say that they got A as well, confidence in your answer begins to erode. As everyone else announces that they got A as well you’d start wondering if you were the one that got something seriously wrong as if everyone else saw the trick of the question and you didn’t. By the time, it’s your turn to answer you might even be embarrassed to say that you’ve got C. So what do you say when it’s your turn do you say what you believe and go with C or go with the group and say line A.

When this is done in a laboratory over one-third of people will change their answer to A. The researchers also identified different factors that made it more or less likely that a person would submit to peer pressure. People are more likely to bend to peer pressure when there’s a large group of people conforming or when an entire group is unanimous in their decision. They also found that in general different groups handle peer pressure better than others. The research found that women are more likely to conform than men. Eastern cultures that place a high value on collectivism conform more than Western cultures and people with low IQ or low self-esteem are more willing to ditch their answer and go with the group.

But how can you resist peer pressure? Here are a few ways that proved effective in the studies. First, you can have a friend on your side, you’re more likely to stick to your answer if you have someone that you trust supporting your answer. Second, you’ll feel less pressured when one or more other people aren’t conforming to the group. This is true even if the nonconformist is also wrong. If 8 people answer A and one person answers B then you’re gonna be more comfortable answering C because hey at least you’re not the only person not saying A. You can’t be too crazy. Third, you’re less susceptible to peer pressure when you can answer in private if you’re allowed to write down your answer instead of telling the group publicly then you can publicly confess your support for A, but write down C as your real answer. Of course, group-think and peer pressure don’t just apply to decisions they also powerfully shape our beliefs and values which in turn influences our actions.

Read the text about how political parties influence our beliefs and answer the questions that follow.

Fake news is everywhere, but why we believe it is still unclear. Drawing on research, psychologists suggest that valuing our identity more than our accuracy leads us to accept incorrect information that aligns with our political party's beliefs. This value discrepancy, they say, can explain why high-quality news sources are no longer enough. Also, understanding it can help us find better strategies to bridge the political divide between people of differing political opinions.


The text suggests that if news sources produce better quality news then people would stop believing in the 'fake news' that we commonly see these days.

Question 1 of 7

First, we must understand how we calculate the value. To do this, we must look at what matters to us and how we engage with the world. Whether that's which newspaper we look at in the morning or what we have for breakfast," says senior author Jay Van Bavel, a psychologist at New York University. "And so we started to think, it's when our goals to fit in with certain groups are stronger than the goal we have to be accurate that we are more likely to be led astray."


Jay Van Bevel suggests that if we value being part of a group, it will affect how our actions and beliefs.

Question 2 of 7

This idea is what he calls his identity-based model of belief. The idea is that we assign values to different ideas based on what matters to us most at the moment and then compare those values to decide which idea we believe is true. Because our political parties can provide us with a sense of belonging and help us define ourselves, agreeing with them can bolster our sense of self. And that can sometimes matter more to us than accuracy about an issue, even if accuracy is something we usually do care about. When that happens, we'll likely believe the ideas that align with our party's views, no matter how plausible.


The text suggests that it is likely we base our beliefs on the views of the communities around us rather than seeking the truth ourselves.

Question 3 of 7

It means that the sources of information we usually rely on to shape our views have less of an impact. "Having a really high-quality news source doesn't matter that much if we think the people producing it belongs to a different group than us," Van Bavel says. "They might have the best writers, the best investigative journalists, the best editorial standards, all the stuff that we would normally care about." But we stop valuing those things, which would typically lead to a high likelihood of accuracy and instead focus on the group we think the news is aligned with, for instances.


The text suggests a reader values the quality of the news reports rather than which group the reader believes the news outlet is aligned to.

Question 4 of 7

Still, Van Bavel does believe that his model offers strategies that can help bridge the political divide. "Our model really doesn't pick a side," he says. "What it argues for is increasing the value of truth or else finding ways to reduce the effects of identity, whether on the left or the right."


Van Bavel feels the need to find ways to strike a balance whether truth is valued rather than what group you are associated with and the values you adopt from being part of it.

Question 5 of 7

Being put into a role that requires someone to be accurate, like being summoned for jury duty, can give people criteria with which to evaluate information and help them be better at thinking critically. Even more simply, Van Bavel says we can increase the value of accurate beliefs by asking people to put their money where their mouth is. "When you are in a disagreement, ask your opponent, 'You wanna bet?' And then their accuracy motives are increased, and you can see right away whether they were engaging in motivated reasoning. Suddenly $20 is on the line, and they don't want to be proven wrong," he says.


Van Bavel suggests that a simple bet may motivate someone to be more accurate with their reasoning.

Question 6 of 7

We can also work to reduce the effects of identity. One way is by creating a superordinate identity: getting people to think of themselves as citizens of a nation or the world rather than as members of a political party. But we also have to pay attention to how we engage with people of different political persuasions. "It turns out that if you insult them and publicly criticize them, their identity needs increase, and they become threatened and less concerned about accuracy. You actually need to affirm their identity before you present information that might be contradictory to what they believe," Van Bavel says.

Currently, Van Bavel is working on empirical studies that will reaffirm the principles of our beliefs. In the meantime, though, and especially in today's political climate, he believes the message is simple: "Our partisan identities lead us to believe things that are untrue. So, we need to step back and critically evaluate what we believe and why."


Van Bavel suggest that to move forward we should publicly criticise politicians as this will lead to being more accurate and truthful.

Question 7 of 7


Adapted from How political parties influence our beliefs, and what we can do about it by Cell Press.

Here are the words and phrases covered in these activities about beliefs:

  • accuracy
  • beliefs
  • collectivism conform
  • communities
  • conform
  • contradictory
  • control group
  • ellipsoid
  • evaluate
  • flat as a pancake
  • identity-based model
  • influences
  • led astray
  • partisan identities
  • peer pressure
  • political party
  • political persuasions
  • principles of belief
  • psychologists
  • reasoning
  • researchers
  • sphere
  • spherical planet
  • strategies
  • susceptible
  • truth
  • unanimous
  • value discrepancy
  • vantage point
  • vast conspiracy
  1. With increasing participation in social media with online ‘friends’ that have similar beliefs and values, what are the implications for seeking ‘the truth’? How is social media like an ‘echo chamber’ in reflecting what we already believe and know, and how can this be damaging society? Write a response to these questions.
  2. Write a set of guidelines for students to follow when searching for reliable sources of information online.
  3. Discuss the following questions with your friend. What is the truth? How do we know something is true? How do group identity and beliefs influence knowledge?
  4. Make a screencast video with supporting visuals that can be shared with classmates on how best to find reliable information online.
  5. Read Chapter 4 of ‘The Great Gatsby’ and then answer the following question. What’s significant about the list Nick Carraway created while living next door to Gatsby with regard to the theme of superficiality versus truth?
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This topic provides students with an opportunity to discover their interests, values, belief and culture.

This topic provides students with an opportunity to consider how events which take place impact an individual's life.

This topic provides students with an opportunity to explore the sciences, technology and creativity.

This topic provides students with an opportunity to explore the way in which groups of people organise themselves through common systems or interests.

This topic provides students with an opportunity to look at the challenges and opportunities faced by individuals and communities in the modern world.

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