Politics and Deception (Part 2)
By Humintell Director Dr. David Matsumoto
In last week’s blog we discussed about the possible deception that occurs when media outlets “report” the news. This week we continue our discussion, with the purpose of raising awareness of how bias/spin/deception may occur and influence our thinking.
Media writers and editors are well aware of the impressions they create with the words they choose (or not choose) to “report” their stories. Some cynics may even suggest that the impressions (or narratives) are pre-decided even before stories are written, and stories are then written or reported in a way to support the pre-decided narrative. For example, take a look at these two headlines about Donald Trump’s recent selection of Mike Pence as his vice-presidential running mate:
In the NY Times headline, note that the selection is making its debut after a “chaotic rollout.” In the NY Post headline, note that the event is labeled simply as “Trump chooses Mike Pence as running mate.” Clearly, the words were carefully chosen in order to craft an impression on the readers.
If we define deception as “the intentional or willful act, without prior notification, of creating in others a belief that may not be true,” it certainly seems that “media spin” is awfully close to lying.
Actually, there has been tons of research on the effects of words on how we think and process information. Much of this started in the line of research on eyewitness testimony. These studies showed that how questions/statements/claims are worded are very crucial because even slight changes in specific words can create very different impressions on the receiver. In one experiment, for example, participants viewed films of an automobile accident and were later interviewed about what they saw. The interviews were the same for everyone except for one difference. Some participants were asked “about how fast were the cars going when they hit each other?” Other participants were asked, “About how fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?” (italics added.) Participants were then asked to estimate the speed that the cars when they hit each other. Those who were told “smashed into” gave higher speed estimates than those told something else.
These effects have been repeated across numerous experiments that have showed that minor changes in wording can sometimes produce big differences in impressions and memories left by the words. For example, another study demonstrated that same effect with the questions “Did you see the broken flashlight?” vs. “Did you see a broken flashlight?”
As we mentioned in the previous post, media plays a crucial role in a democracy by keeping government honest. But it can only do so reporting the facts accurately to the people, so that people can make accurate determinations about its government. If the media does not do so, then it’s up to the people to become better aware of potential bias/spin/deception on the part of the media. Hopefully this brief blog continues to draw some attention to this very important topic.