Category: Media

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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Taking Selfies Is Probably Fine For Your Self-Esteem. Editing Them Might Not Be

By Emily Reynolds

There’s been a lot of back and forth about the psychological effects of taking and sharing selfies. Some research suggests that taking pictures of yourself can dent your self-esteem and increase anxiety, while other studies have found that selfies can be a source of empowerment; one 2017 paper even found a combination of the two, suggesting that sharing selfies online can mitigate the damage to self-image often inflicted when a selfie is actually taken.

The hundreds of op-eds, articles and TV features that continue to focus on the issue also suggest that our interest in the phenomenon is unlikely to abate any time soon. And now a new study published in the Journal of Children and Media has added to the debate.

It suggests that taking selfies may not be as damaging as other research has claimed. Instead, it’s what you do after you’ve taken the photo that matters: it’s editing images that really hurts our self-esteem.

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People Who Watch More TV Find Thinner Women More Attractive, Even In Remote Nicaraguan Communities

By Emma Young

What makes for an attractive female body? Whatever your views on this, across cultures, and socioeconomic groups in particular, there are some differences in opinion.

Western media, with its promotion of “thin ideals”, has been cited as an influence on attitudes. But the only way to really explore this is to study groups of people who are very similar, except that some have been exposed to Western media, while others have not. Needless to say, this isn’t easy. However, a team led by Lynda Boothroyd at the University of Durham has now published just such a set of studies in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Their data suggests that TV exposure does indeed drive both men and women towards finding thinner female bodies more attractive.

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People With Depression May Find Sad Memes Funnier And More Uplifting

By Matthew Warren

Memes have become an integral part of online communication — and a ripe area for research. Underlying the simplicity of a grainy picture and a few words of text are countless more complex psychological questions. What determines why some memes go viral? How do they shape people’s political or social views? And in what ways do our perceptions of memes change depending on our personalities — or even on our mental health?

To this latter question, at least, a new study in Scientific Reports has some answers. Researchers have found that depressed people seem to enjoy memes with depression-related themes more than non-depressed individuals — a finding that points at differences in how people with mental health difficulties use humour as a coping mechanism.

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Why We Continue to Believe False Information Even After We’ve Learned It’s Not True

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By guest blogger Rhi Willmot

Is your mental library a haven of accurate and well-informed facts, or are there mistruths hiding on the shelves? It’s natural to assume that we update our beliefs in line with the most recent and well-established evidence. But what really happens to our views when a celebrity endorses a product that becomes discredited by science, or when a newspaper publishes a story which is later retracted?

A recent paper from the Journal of Consumer Psychology presents a novel take on this topic, by investigating the continued influence effect. Anne Hamby and colleagues suggest that our likelihood of continuing to believe retracted information depends on whether or not it helps us to understand the cause-and-effect structure of an event. Crucially, the team proposes, we would rather have a complete understanding of why things happen than a perspective which is more accurate, but less complete.

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People’s Responses To News Clips Suggest There Is A Greater Market For Happy Stories Than Journalists Realise

good news

By Matthew Warren

Turn on the news tonight and you’ll be bombarded with gloomy stories. You’ll hear about disasters and human suffering, political scandals and environmental destruction. Maybe there will be some good news sandwiched in there — a piece on an exciting new scientific discovery, perhaps, or a profile of a talented young musician. But overall, news coverage is predominantly negative.

Why is that the case? Ultimately, of course, journalists decide what stories and issues receive coverage. But they are also catering to the demands of their audience — and it seems that we respond most to negative stories.

But not all of us. A recent international study in PNAS looking at people’s physiological responses to news reports has found that overall we do seem to have greater reactions to negative stories. However, there is so much variation in how different people respond, say the researchers, that there may be a bigger market for positive stories than journalists often realise.

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Psychologists Show It’s Possible To Fix Misleading Press Releases – Without Harming Their News Value

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Corrected press releases led to more accurate news, without any dip in quantity of coverage; via Adams et al, 2019

By Jesse Singal

There are many reasons why media outlets report scientifically misleading information. But one key site at which this sort of misunderstanding takes root is in the press releases that universities issue when one of their researchers has published something that has a chance of garnering some attention. A new open-access study in BMC Medicine attempts to change this by intervening in the process directly.

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