Are You Suffering From GI Joe Fallacy?

Do you think that, by possessing knowledge, people change or improve their behavior? GI Joe was first a comic book hero and later an animated tv character who used to say "Now you know. And knowing is half the battle ..." Do you agree with this idea?
Are You Suffering From GI Joe Fallacy?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 16 January, 2024

One problem that defines human beings is the illusion of knowledge. In fact, some people, having acquired certain theoretical knowledge, believe that they can conquer the world.

However, later, reality and its intricate challenges give them a dose of humility. After all, genuine learning is acquired by practice and not just from books.

We could say that we live in a world where there are many ignoramuses who believe they know everything (the Dunning-Kruger effect) while the highly competent often believe that they’re not (impostor syndrome).

In fact, this tremendous irony has always defined human beings. It also hinders our progress and the contributions we make to society.

Wisdom, knowledge, and any kind of competence are seen in the daily actions of those who apply their wisdom in the most diverse situations.

It’s not enough to be well-read or have a title to act correctly or even to be happy. This fallacy was defined by Dr. Laurie R. Santos and Tamar Gendler, and it bears a most original name.

Sometimes, even when we know what’s best for us, we don’t carry it out. Indeed, knowing something doesn’t mean we’ve won half the battle.

Boy studying the fallacy of G.I Joe
Possessing knowledge about something doesn’t always mean we apply it logically or successfully.

The GI Joe fallacy

G.I. Joe was, initially, a comic created by David Breger for American soldiers fighting on the front lines during World War II. Later, it became a hit cartoon show in the 80s that was used to teach children certain lessons. At the end of every episode, they finished with the following expression: “Now you know, and knowing is half the battle….”

In effect, these words were difficult to deny. They became a catchphrase that marked an entire generation. Those seasoned soldiers wanted children to internalize ideas such as not trusting strangers or not crossing the street at a red light.

Today, years later, Laurie Santos, a cognitive scientist, and the philosopher Tamar Gendler, both from Yale University (USA) coined a term inspired by this series.

The GI Joe fallacy points out that knowledge isn’t always useful. In other words, possessing knowledge doesn’t necessarily mean that the battle’s half won. Sometimes, it doesn’t even allow us to win at all. For example, take smokers. They’re all aware of the harmful effects of this habit, but this doesn’t mean they quit.

Sometimes, it’s easier to acquire knowledge than to apply that learning in a practical way.

Sometimes, knowing something is of little use

Knowledge doesn’t always allow us to achieve success or make the right decisions. Moreover, we don’t use all the information that comes our way appropriately.

For instance, we know that playing sports and eating balanced diets will affect both our health and our life expectancies. However, many of us continue to lead sedentary lives and eat inadequately.

It’s quite possible that one of the GI Joes in the program all those years ago advised children to eat vegetables. However, it’s equally likely that many of them watched the shows eating high-sugar snacks.

In the same way, we all receive correct information that we don’t always follow. We don’t do it because what really conditions us are our habits.

Research conducted by the University of Utrecht (Netherlands) claims that we all want to improve our lifestyles in the long term. However, low self-control and the force of our habits often prevent us from reaching those goals. Consequently, knowing what’s good for us isn’t a guarantee that, at some point, we’ll take the necessary steps to carry it out.

The rational mind and its biases

One clear example of how the GI Joe fallacy works is phobias. The individual who’s afraid of flying knows that there’s little chance that the plane will crash, but the fear persists.

Moreover, they know that cars are far more dangerous, and yet they’re happy to take the wheel and drive for hours. This is proof that knowing something doesn’t prevent our fears from dissipating.

Another example of this fallacy can be found in marketing campaigns. We all know that between 11.99 and 12.00 there’s only a cent difference, but those figures that end in 99 will always incite us to buy.

Knowing that our rational minds are actually dominated by infinite biases doesn’t prevent us from continuing to fall for these kinds of tricks.

From knowledge to practice: it’s action that counts

It doesn’t matter if you have ten degrees and two doctorates, what matters is how you practice your profession. Nor does it matter how many happiness books you read every year. It’s what you do with the information you get that matters.

The GI Joe fallacy states that knowledge doesn’t mean half a battle is won. In fact, knowledge is only useful when it’s put into action.

It’s action that matters. Your ability to break your old habits will allow you to make use of the information you’ve received and allow it to mediate your success or well-being. However, taking this step isn’t easy. Therefore, it’s essential to know how to make way for new tools and processes that facilitate this kind of action.

Make sure you take note of the following practices that you should promote if you want to win ‘real battles’.

  • Learn to control your impulses.
  • Know how to regulate stress.
  • Plan your actions.
  • Stay motivated.
  • Take responsibility for your actions and evaluate the results.

We know that we have many biases and prejudices, but we rarely stop to review them. 

Worried woman thinking about the fallacy of G.I Joe
Sometimes, we behave in certain ways even though we know that these behaviors will have harmful consequences.


They say that knowledge doesn’t take up space. However, what’s the use of accumulating knowledge or having a great deal of information that we don’t use to benefit us? While the TV show, G.I. Joe is out of fashion and belongs to another time, the fallacy of GI Joe persists and is deeply rooted in us, as humans.

For this reason, you should review your habits and thoughts. After all, you know that many of them aren’t healthy and don’t make you happy. Knowledge is power, but only if you use it wisely. It’s time to take action and promote some healthier changes.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • van der Weiden A, Benjamins J, Gillebaart M, Ybema JF, de Ridder D. How to Form Good Habits? A Longitudinal Field Study on the Role of Self-Control in Habit Formation. Front Psychol. 2020 Mar 27;11:560. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00560. PMID: 32292376; PMCID: PMC7135855.
  • Pannucci CJ, Wilkins EG. Identifying and avoiding bias in research. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2010 Aug;126(2):619-625. doi: 10.1097/PRS.0b013e3181de24bc. PMID: 20679844; PMCID: PMC2917255.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.