18 August, 2006

Media Faces Perceptions of Bias :: PBS

Lee Ross:
We actually have a research finding that's kind of interesting here, and it's that the more people know about the particular situation, the more they see the media as biased, not the less.

. . . They see it as biased because of what's left out more than what's there. And what partisans feel is that what's left out generally in coverage of the Middle East is the context: why things are happening, what the history was.

And, of course, pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian viewers have a very different view of what that context, what that history is, and therefore what's been left out.

NPR - The Science of Bias:
CONAN: And in your column you wrote about a telling experiment in which researchers showed 144 observers six television news segments about Israel's 1982 war with Lebanon. And what did they find?

Mr. VENDANTAM: Well, it was quite striking. When pro-Israelis watched the news segments, they found an astonishing number of anti-Israel references and very few pro-Israel references. And when pro-Arabs watched the very same news clips, they saw an astonishing number of anti-Arab news references and almost no pro-Arab references.
. . .
CONAN: And that was fascinating, the studies that show what happens inside the brains of partisans.

Mr. VEDANTAM: Right. So the psychologists who studied the Israeli-Lebanese conflict in 1982 were not so much interested in foreign affairs as much as the working of the partisan mind. And that, you know, their results can be applied more broadly than just in the realm of foreign affairs. Certainly they can be applied to domestic affairs and to politics and to why Republicans and Democrats, for example, love to hate each other.

And the latest version of the study is to try and do brain imaging scans of partisans, Republicans and Democrats. And what the studies find is that, you know, most people believe that they carefully weigh the information and then come to certain conclusions. What the brain imaging seems to find is that it's actually the reverse that's happening.

People come to conclusions pretty early and then essentially spend the rest of the time, say in a political campaign, essentially defending their opinions against attacks. In other words, they are resistant to taking in any information that could threaten those preexisting beliefs.
. . .
CONAN: But the partisans are sometimes very well informed. They may be partisan, but they're well informed. Does information serve as a buffer here?

Mr. VEDANTAM: Yes, unfortunately that was found not to be the case in the experiments that were conducted at Stanford University after the Israeli war in Lebanon in 1982. They found that people who were the best informed among the pro-Israeli and pro-Arab partisans were actually the most likely to see bias in the media.

And Stanford University psychologist Lee Ross thinks this is because people who are very knowledgeable understand a great degree of, you know, historical context, and of course it's the context from their side. But when they see a particular news clip, especially about a news event that took place the previous day, what they often feel is that there's a large amount of context that's missing. The more knowledgeable people are, the more context they find missing and the more therefore they feel that a particular news bulletin is extremely biased.

10 comments:

trailingspouse said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
mr toodles said...

who is conan? conan o'brein?

i, Bobo said...

John,

As usual, you are right on the money.

Check out the theory of "Hostile Media Effect" at Wikipedia.

HOSTILE MEDIA EFFECT

Regards,

BOA

trailingspouse said...

One of my personal favourites: My mind's made up . . . don't confuse me with the facts.

Brn said...

mr toodles,

It is probably Neal Conan, an NPR host.

mr toodles said...

i know that now,mr brn.
thanks anyway.

scraggle said...

How can one not concur with this? It all boils down to personal bias--and pride. Not being able to accept you're wrong, not humble enough to accomodate correction or assimilate information that will lead to modification of your views to bring it more in line with actuality.

Sad. It's like looking thru a one-way glass.

bandicoot said...

Fascinating stuff; though I'd say some points are self-evident. One of the most interesting aspects of partisanship is how for many people it turns into an absolute dogma; no amount of new evidence, information, and facts seem to have any effect on the evolution of such dogmatic beliefs; not even on their ranking in the order of things and in their causal or logical connections. Of course some changes in given social or political views can also be triggered by pure opportunistic or less than honest personal conviction; I'm not sure if John Edwards's change of mind on t he Iraq war is in this league (is it sincere, or is it a simple political lesson learned from Lieberman's debacle?).

mangy dog said...

I'd agree with Bandicoot. It's also worth noting that even after reading stuff like this, a lot of partisans still don't realise the light's shining on them...

bandicoot said...

mangy dog - don't try to be a smart ass, because that's even too smart for you; get a life!

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