Strategies of Communication on Climate Change

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The problem with watching Fox News

From "Science Daily" (h/t Nate Hagens)

People Often Think An Opinion Heard Repeatedly From The Same Person Is Actually A Popular Opinion

May 21, 2007 — Whether people are making financial decisions in the stock market or worrying about terrorism, they are likely to be influenced by what others think. And, according to a new study in this month's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association (APA), repeated exposure to one person's viewpoint can have almost as much influence as exposure to shared opinions from multiple people. This finding shows that hearing an opinion multiple times increases the recipient's sense of familiarity and in some cases gives a listener a false sense that an opinion is more widespread then it actually is.

In a series of six experiments that included 1044 students, from the University of Michigan, Princeton University, Rutgers University, University of Michigan -- Dearborn, University of Toledo and Harvard University, researchers sought to understand individuals' accuracy in identifying group norms and opinions. The experiments included dividing students into three groups, (three person control group, single opinion group and repeated opinions group). 
Participants in the three person control group read three opinion statements each made by a different group member. The participants in the repeated opinion group read the same three statements but they were all attributed to one group member. Those in the single opinion control group read one opinion statement from one group member. 

The studies found that an opinion is more likely to be assumed to be the majority opinion when multiple group members express their opinion. However, the study also showed that hearing one person express the same opinion multiple times had nearly the same effect on listener's perception of the opinion being popular as hearing multiple people state his/her opinion. 

Researchers examined the underlying processes that take place when individuals estimate the shared attitude of a group of people and how that estimation of collective opinion can be influenced by repetition from a single source. Since gauging public opinion is such an essential component in guiding our social interactions, this research has implications in almost every facet of modern day life.

"This study conveys an important message about how people construct estimates of group opinion based on subjective experiences of familiarity," states lead author Kimberlee Weaver, (Ph.D), of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. "The repetition effect observed in this research can help us to understand how our own impressions are influenced by what we perceive to be the reality of others. For example, a congressman may get multiple phone calls from a small number of constituents requesting a certain policy be implemented or changed, and from those requests must decide how voters in their state feel about the issue. This study sheds light on the cognitive processes that take place that may influence such a decision." 

Article: Inferring the Popularity of an Opinion From Its Familiarity: A Repetitive Voice Can Sound Like a Chorus. Kimberlee Weaver, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Stephen M. Garcia and Norbert Schwarz, University of Michigan, and Dale T. Miller, Stanford University; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Vol. 92, No. 5


  1. Regarding Fox News in particular (though we probably shouldn't pick only just on "poor Fox")... I also have noticed that not only do they repeat the same messages over and over again, (the latest to be repeated incessantly being that the Tea Party and their more extreme nutcases in particular were right anyway even though they caused the republicans to suffer a major defeat in Congress the other day over the debt ceiling…and republicans are almost certain to pay for it in the 2014 mid-term elections which is another reason why Fox is promptly again on the attack in their defense minutes after the vote) but that the VOLUME of their broadcasts is also some considerable number of decibels higher than that of other TV stations. So much so that if I change the channel from another TV station onto Fox I have to turn down the volume so as not to disturb the neighbors. Presumably the louder the volume of a message the more likely it is to be remembered or internalized too? So frequency and loudness certainly are both important and make various messages “more memorable”

    And they certainly do repeat the same messages over and over unrelentingly. But they also duly pass them around among their "anchors"...e.g. Hannity, O'Reilly, Geraldo, Greta van Susteren, and Megyn Kelly being the most popular ones now that good old Glenn (Beck) is finally gone. And then there are of course also their regular "Fox contributors" which is another fairly constant cast of characters. (Karl Rove, James Cargill, Lou Dobbs, and several other such "stars") Since although it’s probably sufficient if just one person repeats the same thing 100 times it is probably better if 20 different people each “only repeat it” five times?

    Another thing I have noticed is that whenever they do "three way" "discussions" led by one of their anchors (with the other two characters usually being some “true believer” and often also aggressive republican and some lame sounding and often timid “liberal democrat” - to make sure they are always “fair and balanced”) the video picture of their anchor -who is always placed in the middle between the other two- is several centimeters higher than the video picture of the other two and so appears “bigger”. Presumably this "greater height" and its size perception also lends "greater authority" to what their anchors say?

    So just with constant repetition, higher sound levels, and the height and size of the picture of the more “authoritative” source coupled with their guy or gal invariably having the last word, they can take care of at least half the brainwashing.

    And who knows what other nonsense and wonderful trickery they have studied in order to better deceive people. (there is plenty of it)
    I tried to summarize the highlights of their “skills” in a comment to a previous post here:
    And someone else had done a good summary of their style and tactics here:
    “Fourteen Propaganda Techniques Fox “News” Uses to Brainwash Americans”
    But for those who are sufficiently vaccinated to withstand their poison I strongly recommend watching them at least on occasion because they provide a great show and are lots of fun to watch.
    Let me see? What exercise in deception are they using now and with which favorite implementation variant?

    But much of the rest of the mainstream media is almost equally insidious and just as deceptive. And in some ways, even more so because they try to seem less outrageous than Fox where at least one knows what to expect.

  2. "But much of the rest of the mainstream media is almost equally insidious and just as deceptive."
    I find it's better all around to just not watch TV as much as possible - there is very little to be gained from doing so (except possibly higher blood pressure).