When we interact with people, our mind models them. Thus, as a consequence we also end up modelling other people’s beliefs, which in turn can potentially affect our beliefs. I don’t believe that the contextual belief systems of humans (self vs. other) is absolutely isolated – if you are surrounded by contrary beliefs long enough, they could slowly seep into your unconsciousness. Which leads me to wonder if this might have some relation to Stockholm Syndrome? With perhaps stress priming the mind to accept new beliefs more fluidly than usual, in order to allow humans to adapt and survive, even in unpleasant scenarios. Peer pressure and conformity bias might be otherways in which other people’s beliefs can unintentionally alter our own. Of particular interest are the experiments where all but one of the participants in a group are told to lie about observing a phenomenon and the the other, whom are making a decision purely on what they see, tend to agree with the rest of the group. Even when they are later asked about their decision, and told that the other participants were told to lie, generally the one will still swear they saw the phenomenon anyway (see the Solomon Asch study of social conformity).
There are lots of self-help articles and books that tell you to surround yourself with inspiring and positive people and avoid people who are stuck in a life of negative thought, or otherwise are poisonous to people’s happiness. And from the above, it makes sense that negativity is actually contagious. Let alone whether we have empathic tendencies, and mirror their feelings, just mirroring their viewpoint of the world would transfer those beliefs. I certainly don’t want to argue we should all become heartless isolationists, because compassion for other people is always important. But in the end, you are responsible for your own happiness over others (although not at the cost of others, through causing unnecessary harm) and to that end, I think it’s important to sometimes check whether the negativity of others is morphing your beliefs and outlook on the world.
This spread of belief occurs for small chunks of knowledge, and through modelling others at a personal level, but also occurs for larger concepts and ideas. Memes are particularly adapted to play to parts of the human condition so that they get actively spread by us. Things like quizzes that tell us how we fit in the world or appeal to our narcissism and ego, telling us we are unique in some way and that help to define our identity, are particularly virulent. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, as I’ve wasted plenty of time finding out I used to have a “pool boy” dating personality, that at some stage I was 45% pure, and that I am simultaneously a dozen historical figures. They also promote participation – which would arguably work better to promote the spread of the meme over a purely academic piece of knowledge or trivia. Tests that are also related in the attention sphere of Pop culture, the contents of which are themselves memes, piggy-back on the success of other ideas and memes.