Category: Media

Negative Media Coverage Of Immigration Leads To Hostility Towards Immigrants And In-Group Favouritism

By Emily Reynolds

The media plays a huge part in shaping our understanding of the world, including how we respond to other people. Coverage of immigration is no different, and previous research has suggested that even subtle changes in language and framing can change the way people think about immigrants.

A new study, published in Scientific Reports, looks at the real life impact of negative media portrayals of immigrants. It finds that negative coverage can increase hostility towards immigrants and favouritism towards members of the non-immigrant in-group — which can have serious financial, emotional and social consequences for communities.

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Conspiracy Theories Are More “Entertaining” Than The Truth — And This Helps Explain Why People Believe Them

By Emma Young

Conspiracy theories stoke anxiety and uncertainty and can even threaten the health of those who espouse them. Take Covid-19 anti-vaxxers, for example, who put themselves at risk by refusing a vaccine. So given those negative consequences, it’s surprising that conspiracy theories are so prolific.

Research shows that beliefs that other groups are colluding secretly to pursue malevolent goals (the definition of a conspiracy theory) are more common during times of crisis — like a global pandemic. Heightened anxiety is thought to lead people to (erroneously) believe that there are hostile forces at play. But now a paper in the British Journal of Psychology reveals another reason for why conspiracy theories can be appealing. Jan-Willem van Prooijen at the Free University Amsterdam and colleagues found that conspiracy theories provoke a stronger emotional reaction than relatively dull-but-true reality — and this encourages belief in them, especially for people who have the personality trait of being “sensation-seeking”.

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Want To Know Whether A Movie Or Book Will Be A Hit? Look At How Emotional The Reviews Are

By Emma Young

You want to choose a new vacuum cleaner, or book, or hotel, or kids’ toy, or movie to watch — so what do you do? No doubt, you go online and check the star ratings for various options on sites such as Amazon or TripAdvisor, and so benefit from the wisdom of crowds.

However, there are problems with this star-based system, as a new paper in Nature Human Behaviour makes clear. Firstly, most ratings are positive — so how do you choose between two, or potentially many more, products with high ratings, or even the same top rating? Secondly, star ratings aren’t a great predictor of the success (and so actual general appeal and approval) of a movie, book, and so on, note Matthew D. Rocklage at the University of Massachusetts and his colleagues. The team presents an alternative method for picking the best product and also predicting success, which focuses on the emotional responses of the reviewers.

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What Makes For A “Meaningful” Death In Fiction?

By Emily Reynolds

Death can be a powerful narrative tool. We sob over the demise of a beloved character, cheer at the comeuppance of our favourite villain, or sit at the edge of our seats, shocked at deaths we didn’t see coming. Red Wedding, anyone?

All deaths are not created equal, however, and in a new study Kaitlin Fitzgerald from the State University of New York and team look at what makes certain fictional deaths so memorable. The team reports that although we find some deaths pleasurable — the long-awaited downfall of an antagonist, for example — it’s those we find meaningful that truly stick with us in the long-term.

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Film Soundtracks Shape Our Impressions Of A Character’s Personality And Thoughts

By Emma Young

If you sit down to watch TV or a film these holidays, you might want to pay a little extra attention to how the soundtrack makes you feel. We all know that background music influences the tone of a scene but what, exactly, soundtracks do to our understanding of a character has not been studied in detail. In a new paper, in Frontiers in Psychology, Alessandro Ansani at Roma Tre University, Italy, and colleagues report work aimed at filling in some of the gaps.

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Study Finds People Who Played Video Games For Longer Had Greater Wellbeing (But Direction Of Causality Isn’t Yet Clear)

Photo: A user plays Animal Crossing, one of the games studied in the new research. William West/AFP via Getty Images

By Matthew Warren

Video games get blamed for a lot. There are long-standing debates about whether violence in video games leads to real-world aggression, or whether video game “addiction” is something we should worry about. And some people have broader fears that more time spent on screens negatively affects our mental health and wellbeing.

However, an increasing number of studies have failed to find much evidence to back up these kinds of concerns. But the field suffers from some pretty big limitations. In particular, studies often rely on people reporting their own time spent consuming media — and we’re notoriously unreliable at making those sorts of estimates.

Enter a new study from Niklas Johannes and colleagues at the Oxford Internet Institute, published as a preprint on PsyArxiv earlier this week. The researchers find that more time spent playing video games actually relates to greater wellbeing (though there are plenty of caveats to that finding — more on those later). But the most interesting part of the study is really its methodology: rather than relying on people reporting their own video game use, the researchers established a rare collaboration with games companies in order to get precise data.

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People Who Crave Structure Are More Likely To Declare That Errors In Media Reports Are “Fake News”

By Emily Reynolds

There’s been much interest in what drives fake news over the last few years: who exactly shares it, and why? But beyond actual fake news — that is, purposefully misleading information spread online to further a particular agenda — recent years have also seen many people labelling genuine journalism as untrustworthy or downright false.

There are obvious ideological drivers to this, with some keen to undermine political opponents by any means necessary. But there might be another reason people are drawn to declaring “fake news!”: a need for order.

Viewing publications as susceptible to honest mistakes or human error implies a world in which information can be distorted for unpredictable reasons; viewing them as deliberately and methodically deceiving readers for sinister reasons, on the other hand, implies some sort of order. It therefore follows that those who crave structure may also be more likely to deem articles false, suggest Jordan R. Axt from McGill University and colleagues in a study in Psychological Science.

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Engaging With The Arts Is Related To Greater Wellbeing (But It’s Not Entirely Clear Why)

By Emma Young

Social isolation and fears for our family and friends, as well as ourselves, have all affected psychological wellbeing during the COVID-19 lockdown. But being unable to visit an art gallery, theatre or live music venues may also have taken its toll. According to new research by Peter Todderdell at the University of Sheffield and Giulia Poerio at the University Essex, such experiences contribute to wellbeing in a way that watching a sporting event, for example, does not. The pair’s new paper, published in Emotion, presents the first longitudinal examination of the effect of engaging with the “artistic imagination” — rather than actively taking part in an artistic endeavour — on wellbeing.

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How Do Films Like ‘Joker’ Shape Attitudes Towards People With Mental Health Issues?

Photo: A billboard for Joker displayed in West Hollywood in 2019. Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

By Emily Reynolds

Much of the discourse surrounding mental health over the last few years has focused on stigma: breaking down those unhelpful myths around mental illness that both prevent people seeking help and, sometimes, lead to outright discrimination.

What part culture has to play in this mission is an interesting question. Both the “madman” and the asylum have been a ubiquitous presence in cinema, literature and television, often to the chagrin of those who have had such stereotypes directly affect their lives. A new study, published in JAMA Network Open, has looked at the impact one recent film, Joker, might have had on prejudice. Continue reading “How Do Films Like ‘Joker’ Shape Attitudes Towards People With Mental Health Issues?”

Responsible Reporting Is Vital In Media Coverage Of Suicide

By Emily Reynolds

Exactly how the media discusses suicide is a topic of frequent debate. Plenty of research has linked media reporting  of suicide with an increase in suicidal behaviour, and both the Samaritans and the World Health Organization (WHO), amongst others, have clear (and frequently promoted) guides for journalists on how to report suicide.

But such guidelines are often ignored in favour of insensitivity or sensationalism — especially when the person at hand is a celebrity. Take the recent coverage of the death of Caroline Flack: explicit, deeply intimate details were plastered across tabloids for weeks, with seemingly no thought for how those details would impact readers.

Now a new review, published in the British Medical Journal, has taken a closer look at just how serious the problem is.

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