Psychologist investigates whether tickers in TV news replace critical thinking

Tickers that present headlines or minor pieces of news in the news programs, provide viewers with quick conclusions, which sometimes replace critical thinking – noted psychologist Dr. Konrad Maj, who started a study on the subject.

In addition to video and spoken content, TV news often display information bars, so-called news tickers. Dr. Konrad Maj from the University of Social Sciences and Humanities believes that it is worth examining the impact of these tickers on receiving information. “We have not found similar studies conducted elsewhere in the world” – he noted in an interview with PAP. And, according to the psychologist, tickers do not always accurately sum up the material. “I watch it from time to time. For example: information in the report is that the prosecutor questions a person, and according to the ticker charges are brought against this person. This dramatically changes the perception of the situation” – says the researcher.

To determine the impact of tickers on perception of the material, in a preliminary study the researchers used a specially prepared video. It presented a story of a person suspected of fraud in an online store. The material showed that the person could be innocent and a victim of identity theft. On this video, however, researchers have superimposed tickers, according to which “the accused extorted the money” and “the prosecution brought charges against him”. “We believed that the tickers would make the viewer cease to focus on what was said in the material. And we were right. Without the tickers, 80 percent of people believed that the person mentioned in the report was innocent. However, the insertion of three tickers completely reversed proportions – 80 percent of viewers thought that the person was guilty” – said Dr. Maj.

Dr. Maj’s team will conduct further, more detailed studies on this issue in the framework of the project “Seeing is believing. Suggestion and disinformation in video broadcast” in the HARMONY programme of the National Science Centre.

“Many people believe that the ticker presents conclusions, information summary on the subject. And once you know the summary, you do not need to focus on the content of the material” – said the researcher and added that people prefer to focus on the conclusion and not on reasons that lead to this conclusion. So when people see the text on the ticker, they do not subject it to critical analysis. “This shows that the tickers can replace thinking and make us more susceptible to manipulation” – admitted the psychologist.

“The human mind is not adapted to the present, to receiving huge doses of information from very different fields every day. +Software+ that we use is obsolete, in modern times it’s junk” – he said. He explained that we spend our cognitive resources on memorizing various information and our “hard drive” is being filled with it. “We do not have the resources and time to verify each time who is lying and who is telling the truth. We are also not able to form our own opinion on every subject. People often accept opinions that are given to them” – noted the researcher.

In his opinion, cognitively burdened people often use mental economics and prefer to formulate opinions based on simple, fast reasons. We use such simplifications, for example, when shopping: we believe that a brand is good, because we know it from advertising. “In our project, we want to test this effect in a more comprehensive way” – said the psychologist.

Dr. Maj reminded that in the 1970s an American psychologist Stanley Milgram developed the concept of urban reload. He said that our cities burden us cognitively with the noise, advertising in public spaces. “However, now because of the growth of the Internet and many multimedia technologies we more often talk about information overload. It makes us susceptible to information pills and we do not dig deep into this information” – added Maj.

Psychologist hopes that his research will serve as a warning and show that the recipients, to avoid being manipulated, should be more vigilant when receiving information.

PAP – Science and Scholarship in Poland, Ludwika Tomala

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