Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Polarization, confirmation bias, and media malpractice

The press claims to hate it, so why are they making it worse?

This article makes a key point about modern marketing which has serious implications for political debate and the health of the republic.

How The Principle Of Triage Can Benefit Your Brand

The second group, can be broadly described as rejecters of the brand. Even heavy spend against this group will have minimal effect, because of the problem of confirmation bias.

This bias, first described in 1954 by the psychologists Albert Hastorf and Hadley Cantril, suggests that we interpret messages through a lens of our existing feelings. So if we dislike a brand, any message will be interpreted negatively, through a lens of cynicism.

Advertising, as a relatively weak force, will struggle to over-turn these misconceptions.
An interesting experiment which shows how this plays out in voters’s minds:

Along with Jenny Ridell I ran an experiment in the UK to understand if the bias was still as powerful today. We surveyed 1,004 nationally representative voters about their views on raising sales tax by a penny to fund 10,000 extra nurses.

The results were then split by political affiliation. The twist was that half the respondents were told it was a Conservative policy and half Labour.

When Labour supporters thought the policy came from Labour there was strong support: 14 percent completely agreed. However, support plummeted to 3 percent when it was described as a Conservative policy.

Similarly, among Tories the policy was four times more popular when it was positioned as coming from their party.

The results show that voters interpret policies through a lens of their feelings for the party. If they dislike a party they’ll interpret any policy through a negative filter.

As can be seen from the scale of the effect this is not an insignificant factor: policy is far less influential than existing party affiliation.
So it appears that once an issue is presented within a red/blue, left/right framework, people become locked into their positions and less susceptible to persuasion.

See additional discussion here:

Changing Minds
This is one more reason why CNN’s “Town Hall” in the wake of the Parkland school shooting was a terrible idea. We had not learned many of the highly relevant facts. CNN made little attempt to provide background information. The ideological framework (“gun grabber” vs. “gun nuts”) ensured that many, if not most, viewers would discount any new information they encountered.

As noted previously, the business model of cable news and internet publishing is a big driver of this High Heat/Low Light “journalism”.

Media's Shifting Business Model
While this sort of programming is good for ratings and cash flow, it seems hazardous to the health of the nation. It increases polarization while at the same time it limits our ability and willingness to understand the complexity of the issues that confront us.

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