by Daniel A. Bujorean, MBA, CIM
Now, you might think this article headline is just another headline to click bait you into reading the story. You are partially right, but it’s not just a click bait headline it is in fact a proven way to manipulate your views on this particular topic before you even start reading the article. Still skeptical?
That’s fine, we have the proves.
I have always suspected that headlines are more than just a teaser for readers to open and read the articles because far to many times the articles and the headlines had entirely different conclusions. I know, I know… the editors are in charge with them. I have experience working in a newspaper editorial office and I do know that headlines are composed by the editor not the author and that is to make sure the headlines are inciting enough to determine people to buy the paper or click on the link, however I have always been aware by the power of the written word in the shape of ideological slogans.
There is an interesting study that will prove my suspicions were right. Nonetheless I must warn you that you will not read about this in the media, especially in the partisan mainstream media.
Back in 2014, authors Ecker, U. K. H., Lewandowsky, S., Chang, E. P., & Pillai, R. published a paper called The effects of subtle misinformation in news headlines. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 20(4), 323–335 and the conclusions were mind-thrilling:
“Information presented in news articles can be misleading without being blatantly false. Experiment 1 examined the effects of misleading headlines that emphasize secondary content rather than the article’s primary gist.
We investigated how headlines affect readers’ processing of factual news articles and opinion pieces, using both direct memory measures and more indirect reasoning measures.
Experiment 2 examined an even more subtle type of misdirection. We presented articles featuring a facial image of one of the protagonists, and examined whether the headline and opening paragraph of an article affected the impressions formed of that face even when the person referred to in the headline was not the person portrayed. We demonstrate that misleading headlines affect readers’ memory, their inferential reasoning and behavioral intentions, as well as the impressions people form of faces.
On a theoretical level, we argue that these effects arise not only because headlines constrain further information processing, biasing readers toward a specific interpretation, but also because readers struggle to update their memory in order to correct initial misconceptions. Practical implications for news consumers and media literacy are discussed.” (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)
Why this is important? people are rational!
‘Wait a sec.!’, you would say. ‘People are rational and they read the entire thing and think for themselves.’ No, they are not. It is actually proven numerous times by the Noble prizes winners in the behavioural economy science that people are deeply irrational. There is herding – the wisdom of the crowds, cognitive bias, status quo bias, present bias and psychological factors such as sunk Cost Fallacy and lack of control that proves beyond any doubt we are in fact not even remotely rational beings.
In an article by American Press Institute, on the Media Insight Project, we find out more about how Americans describe their media consumption behaviours. “The data suggests that the answer to that is nuanced. People both scan and read deeply. A simplistic notion of distracted Americans just glancing at headlines with little effort at going deep does not accurately describe what people believe they are doing.
When it comes to specific behaviors, 4 in 10 Americans say they scan headlines at least several times a day, and another 3 in 10 say they read the headlines once a day. But Americans report watching, reading, or listening closely to the details of a story at the same rate.
Interestingly, though opinion content has become far more prevalent in a world when anyone can publish, far fewer adults say they regularly seek out commentary. More than 7 in 10 say they do this less than once a day or never.” – American Press Institute
So, we know that headlines influence readers far more than we knew, they actually determine their entire views on a topic despite the different conclusions of the article, we know that we are deeply irrational and critical thinking is not common. And we know that in this day and age, the attention span is narrowed day by day and.
Is there a way we can protect ourselves from being manipulated and brainwashed by the media with ‘evil’ intent? Honestly the only thing I can think of is to stop believing everything in the media and treat every news story as bias and manipulatory. And if we really want to know the truth about something let’s not trust the source but our own rigouros research.