Do Minds Have Immune Systems?

37 Pages Posted: 19 Jan 2024

See all articles by Andy Norman

Andy Norman

Carnegie Mellon University

Sander van der Linden

University of Cambridge - Department of Psychology

Luke Johnson

Cognitive Immunology Research Collaborative (CIRCE)


Do minds have immune systems? In this paper, we remove several obstacles to treating the question in a rigorously scientific way. After giving the hypothesis that minds do have such subsystems a name – we call it the Mental Immune Systems Thesis, or MIST – we show why it merits serious consideration. The issue hinges on our definition of an immune system, so we examine the definition that currently prevails, demonstrate its shortcomings, and offer an alternative that addresses those shortcomings. We then lay out the empirical evidence that minds really do have immune systems in the specified sense. Findings about psychological inoculation, identity-protective cognition, cognitive dissonance, psychological reactance, information diffusion, and cognitive bias all point to the existence of evolved cognitive defenses—informational “immune systems” that function in much the way that bodily immune systems do. Finally, we discuss the prospects of cognitive immunology, a research program that (1) posits mental immune systems and (2) proceeds to investigate their functioning.

Keywords: Misinformation, susceptibility, inoculation, immune system, cognitive bias, evolution

Suggested Citation

Norman, Andy and van der Linden, Sander and Johnson, Luke, Do Minds Have Immune Systems?. Available at SSRN: or

Andy Norman (Contact Author)

Carnegie Mellon University ( email )

Sander Van der Linden

University of Cambridge - Department of Psychology ( email )

Luke Johnson

Cognitive Immunology Research Collaborative (CIRCE) ( email )

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