I was wondering if there is a term when you choose to believe something even when you know it is likely untrue?

The concept I'm thinking of would differ from cognitive dissonance in that you're choosing a theory to believe, so there is no absolutely right answer. Or when someone has a pet theory that has little or no evidence for or against.

Examples I would give that might fall into this might be believing horoscopes/star signs, one religion over another.

"I have a pet theory, that honestly is likely false, but I choose to believe it, and almost actively would prevent proving it wrong." Is there a term to describe that belief, or the act of holding it?

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    Richard Dawkins chose "delusion" for the title of his book about why people persist in believing in gods. I think Jane Austen preferred "willful self-deception". Do you like either of those? – Thruston Sep 1 '13 at 22:30
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    I suppose it’s sort of in between blind faith and autosuggestion. I’m fairly sure there are several idioms and even single words that refer to doing this, but my mind is drawing a blank at the moment (a good sign that it’s bedtime) … – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 1 '13 at 22:30
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    Or what about the psychologists' term "confabulation"? – Thruston Sep 1 '13 at 22:36
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    Your question seems to be going of fin a number of directions. Is it the belief itself, or the choice to belive it? Is it a matter of the proposition being false regardless of the existence of evidence, being either true or false but lacking evidence, or being false and having evidence to the contrary? – smithkm Sep 2 '13 at 3:13
  • Have you tried asking on psychology Q&A cogsci.stackexchange/com ? – Kris Sep 3 '13 at 6:34

11 Answers 11


Another word that springs to mind is

doublethink from George Orwell's 1984 for accepting contradictions and falsehoods as a technique of self-indoctrination, which itself is a good word I think.


Self-deception is the act of hiding the truth from yourself.

  • but you are not deceiving yourself if you 'know' that what you choose to believe is wrong. This person is not hiding the truth - he is actively promoting what he knows to be untrue. – user49727 Sep 2 '13 at 13:42
  • but there is no hiding involved. The person is honest enough to admit that he 'chooses' to believe. – user49727 Sep 2 '13 at 15:07

Not quite one word but close enough, for people that really want to believe in something even though they don't think that it is true, we could say it's a "foolish hope" or a "fool".

For people like fortune tellers that doesn't actually believe what they were telling others to believe, we could call them a "hypocrite".

For people that actually truly believe their false pet theories, and doesn't in any bit doubted its falsity despite contradictory evidence, we could say they're "misguided" or "deluded".

  • Similar to a foolish hope, you can also say that you choose to remain in a fool’s paradise. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 1 '13 at 22:57

Way too complicated answers for a simple one word answer... and that would be 'denial'.

From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary

1: refusal to satisfy a request or desire

2a (1) : refusal to admit the truth or reality (as of a statement or charge) (2) : assertion that an allegation is false
2b : refusal to acknowledge a person or a thing : disavowal

A close cousin would be 'delusional', which could also apply, and is in general a stronger form of denial.

From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary

1: the act of deluding : the state of being deluded

2a : something that is falsely or delusively believed or propagated
b : a persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary; also : the abnormal state marked by such beliefs

  • This question requires a complicated answer I'm afraid. OP has clearly indicated that the person 'knows' that what is believes is untrue. He is not looking for a 'psychotic'. And 'denial' is refusal to admit 'truth' not something you know to be untrue. – user49727 Sep 2 '13 at 11:26
  • @user49727. I did not write the definitions for these words, and by definition, both these words could apply if a person still believes in what he knows to be not true. – Epiphany Sep 2 '13 at 13:19
  • Hi - I guess the point I was making was that both these terms imply delusion and psychosis in addition to obstinacy, and are therefore judgemental more than matter-of-fact descriptive. – user49727 Sep 2 '13 at 13:26


(noun) a person who takes an opposing view, especially one who rejects the majority opinion, as in economic matters.

(adj) opposing or rejecting popular opinion; going against current practice:

You would be considered a contrarian if you believe that the earth is hollow.

Believing in astrology is a contrarian attitude within a scientice-oriented society.

Refusing to follow your parents' religion and following another religion might get you branded as a contrarian within your family.

  • but rejecting popular opinion doesn't necessarily imply that you are rejecting something that is untrue or not right... – user49727 Sep 2 '13 at 13:39

There is a phrase wishful thinking used to describe a concept that is highly unlikely, but you would oh-so-hope could be true

the attribution of reality to what one wishes to be true or the tenuous justification of what one wants to believe

  • this applies to 'wishing' that something is true - not quite the same as promoting what you 'know' to be false. – user49727 Sep 2 '13 at 13:44
  • @user49727 While there is no requirement that the wisher know the falsity (or unlikeliness) of the aspiration, it is often the case that eventual disappointment is understood. – bib Sep 2 '13 at 15:44

The examples you have provided of a person obstinately adhering to his beliefs in traditional customs and ideas describes a mumpsimus, a word with an interesting etymology.


It's not a single word, but I think the expression you want is "willfully self-deceived." I think it has precisely the meaning you're seeking.


Cognitive dissonance - experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values

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    Please cite your source for the definition. – Laurel Oct 2 '17 at 23:19

If you are implying that these deliberate falsehoods are all in the form of cultural beliefs only then I think conformism would fit. Unless I have completely misconstrued the question.


I know of a word which refers to the state of departing from usual or accepted standards. The specific word is deviance.

protected by tchrist Dec 27 '17 at 1:31

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