psychology

Media Bias – Part 2: Psychology

8 March 2023

8.3 MINS

Welcome to part 2 of this three-part essay on media bias. In part 1 we traced the innovations of media technology and concluded that while the technology can’t be biased the operators always are and always have been.

Now let’s consider how we as individuals respond to media bias. We are far from identical in our response, so we should never make assumptions about ourselves or others — our responses are always unique.

Personality Types

Personally, I like the Myers-Briggs’ 16 Personality Types. I researched how easily the various personality types might be manipulated, and this table is my attempt at a summary:

MBTI

The ‘type’ is the code each personality is assigned, mine being INFJ. The ‘name’ is the label assigned to each code. The ‘frequency’ indicates the proportion of people in society with that personality type.

I read through the assessments of how susceptible each type might be to manipulation. Some were clear one way or the other, but some were more ambiguous, though often admitting that they could be manipulated by those they loved. I made a call on each type and assigned them Manipulated (pink) and Not Manipulated (blue). I then tallied the various frequencies and found the Manipulated were 43.6% of the population and the Non-Manipulated 56.4%. Pretty evenly split!

My rudimentary research project was not designed to prove anything, I was simply curious to see if I could demonstrate that our personality may indicate our level of susceptibility to media bias. I think it does. Therefore, it behoves all of us to be aware that our personality may well influence our response to the narratives we hear and see.

Bandwidth

Back in 2012, Pastor Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC), Illinois, USA, was leading his Global Leadership Summit. Bill asked: Who can leaders learn from? The context for his remarks was that some regulars to his conference had pulled out that year with their whole teams and Bill was reflecting on why. The reasons given were that that year, the program had included some presenters that some leaders were not comfortable hearing from and they did not want their teams exposed to them.

Bill was naturally disappointed that these teams were not going to be there at the conference. So, he posed the question, Who can leaders learn from? He suggested that having presenters that may not fit with delegates’ worldview and with whom they would not feel comfortable, really could be most beneficial for them, because their jarring perspective and their uncomfortable questions might be just the right thing that leaders might need to stretch and grow in their leadership.

So, Bill used the phrase — how big is your bandwidth? If it’s only narrow, we can only hear from a narrow range of perspectives. If it is wide, then perhaps we can consider many more different perspectives, and in so doing, refine and deepen our understanding in a way that simply hearing the expected, the comfortable, would never achieve.

Bill was not suggesting that the delegates to his conference needed to have a radical overhaul of their leadership. No, he was simply suggesting that hearing from angles they might not be familiar with would in fact be good for them, confirming and strengthening their leadership in the process.

So how wide is our bandwidth, whether we see ourselves as leaders or not? Are we only up for hearing what we expect? Do we get uncomfortable having to process the startling, the unexpected, and the unpleasant? If all we expose ourselves to is the same old, tried, and tested narrative that we believe is ‘right’, we may never get to be challenged in our worldview and open up to the prospect that our beliefs might be ‘wrong’!

The term bandwidth comes from the days of analogue radio, when we had to tune our radio sets to hear a particular station. As we turned the dial, the signal would get stronger and then begin to fade away again (a process completely alien to the digital natives of 2023). When we had found the strongest signal, we knew we had found the optimal frequency, the best place to listen.

But how wide was the bandwidth for that station? Were there any other channels competing for our ears around and about the one we wanted? If we have only a narrow bandwidth, we are really saying ‘we can’t hear’ any other views, even to have the opportunity to dismiss them. That is very sad. I think we should do all we can to enlarge our bandwidth to hear the context around any narrative that is competing and clamouring for our attention.

Disc Space

Disc space is the total amount of data that a hard disc or hard drive can store.

Perhaps we can imagine bandwidth as how wide our perspective is, and how comfortable we are in considering new points of view. Continuing the technology analogy, disc space represents how much capacity we have left in our thinking for new scenarios or additional information. It is certainly similar to the bandwidth argument, but substantively different.

Sometimes, we have to call ‘time out’ to a friend who is bombarding us with a really complex argument, familiar to them, but new to us. We simply interrupt and say, ‘slow down, let me try to process that.’ When that happens, I would argue that we have reached our mental and/or emotional capacity, and we need time to sort things out and file some ideas away before we can continue.

I don’t believe this relates to someone’s biological or genetic capacity being of a smaller amount than others. I don’t believe that that can ever be the case, as I believe we are all fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). No, I am rather suggesting that some of us, at certain times in our lives, get saddled with so much work responsibility or home and family challenges, we simply run out of disc space to consider anything new or unfamiliar.

Another analogy comes to mind with the same idea: are we running on empty? Lack of disc space or running on empty are normal human experiences at times in everyone’s lives. I could testify to this very often when I was in full-time work.

Now that I am retired, I have been blessed with the opportunity to look around at a range of issues in a way that I have simply not had the capacity to do for years. I am not suggesting that running with little disc space is necessarily bad — I am proposing the argument that if our disc space is limited, that will have a profound impact on the degree to which we might be manipulated by biased media. I think that if we don’t acknowledge our lack of disc space, we are unlikely to acknowledge the potential for our being manipulated.

The days, weeks and months of lockdowns we endured in the last few years under our various governments’ emergency measures allowed many of us to take stock and, yes, to realise that for years we had been running on empty. For others, who lost jobs or whose businesses folded, the trauma of those experiences initiated a massive shockwave though our well-being and our psychological health, but on the positive side, we were given the space to reflect on how manic our lives had become.

I think it is a brilliant practice, in seeking to maintain our own well-being, to pause a while and take a psychological stock-take, that includes an assessment of how much disc space we might have left. I remember one of my pastors, years ago, saying that he had the privilege of being able to block off one day per month, when he would drive out to one of his neighbourhood parks. He would spend the day in prayer, reflection and study, away from technology and any interruptions by phone or in person. He could spend the time defragging his hard drive!

Que Sera Sera

What will be will be. The song’s lyrics go on: Whatever will be, will be, The future’s not ours to see. Yes, that’s absolutely true. But what I want to propose is that if our life is singing this song, are we accepting whatever comes down the pipe towards us and resigning from any thought that we might be able to change things?

The song originally appeared in the Alfred Hitchcock film “The Man Who Knew Too Much”, where it appears diegetically and serves an important role in the film’s plot. In the film, Day plays a retired popular singer, Jo Conway McKenna, who, along with her husband (played by Jimmy Stewart) and son, becomes embroiled in a plot to assassinate a foreign prime minister.

After foiling the assassination attempt, Jo and her husband are invited by the prime minister to the embassy, where they believe their young son is being held by the conspirators. Jo sits at a piano and plays “Que Sera, Sera”, singing loudly in the hope of reaching her son.

Upon hearing his mother play the familiar song, her son whistles along, allowing her husband to find and rescue him just before he was to be murdered by the conspirators to the assassination attempt. ~ Wikipedia

How ironic that a song that seems to applaud “cheerful fatalism” should be used in this Hitchcock film to “release the captive”! However, here in my discussion, I am raising the idea Que Sera Sera as a potential platform for being more easily manipulated by media bias. That is, if we don’t consider the danger of media bias, we will simply be happy to go along with what will be, will be.

Que Sera Sera and cheerful fatalism remind me of the four personality types supposedly related to the four humours of ancient medical practice, way back in Greek and Roman times.

  • Sanguine — optimistic or positive, especially in an apparently bad or difficult situation.
  • Phlegmatic — having an unemotional and stolidly calm disposition.
  • Choleric — bad-tempered or irritable.
  • Melancholic — feeling or expressing pensive sadness.

I think these definitions are too simplistic, and I certainly think that any test results we might obtain for these personality types would be most problematic! However, humour me a moment. I have looked at these so-called four types and made notes on some of their signature characteristics:

Sanguine personalists are said to be curious and creative, spontaneous, impulsive and with high energy. They are described as assertive and goal-orientated. In terms of whether this type would be easily manipulated? I would say they would not be so. They would say that they would have their antenna tuned to manipulation from a biased media.

Phlegmatic personalities are described as agreeable, empathetic, warm, and cooperative. Further, they are described as considerate of others’ feelings, and trusting. These traits suggest that they might be more easily manipulated and less likely to question the media’s narrative.

Choleric personalities are very savvy, analytical, and logical. They are said to be driven by their testosterone hormone and hence are mainly men. They are independent and tough-minded. Of all these four traits, they are the least likely to be swayed by media bias.

Melancholic personalities are characterised by their loyalty to friends and family. They follow the typical norms of their families and society. They are known to be respectful, orderly and patient. Hence, they are unlikely to suggest rocking the boat, as they will naturally follow the majority with wholehearted dependability. Therefore, they would be liable to be misled by media bias.

I guess most of us are made up of a combination of all four traits, but we may have a tendency to peak in one of them. Perhaps we can see from this discussion if we are more, or less, likely to be manipulated by media bias.

Psychology

Psychology is the study of the mind and behaviour, which includes biological influences, social pressures, and environmental factors that affect how we think, act, and feel.

It’s difficult to capture everything that psychology encompasses in just a brief definition, but topics such as development, personality, thoughts, feelings, emotions, motivations, and social behaviours represent just a portion of what psychology seeks to understand, predict, and explain. ~ Very Well Mind

In this discussion, I have focussed on our personalities, but we have also considered some other factors such as social and environmental pressures that may affect our lives at different times and to varying degrees.

I believe I have demonstrated that we are all wired differently and as a result, we will all respond differently to media bias. Some of us will react in horror when we realise the level of deception we have been exposed to. Others may not seem to care at all, as they are quite detached from the media and see it as a slightly amusing sideshow largely irrelevant to our daily lives.

In my third and final part of this essay on media bias, I will review how we respond as communities and societies to the various agendas of media bias.

___

Photo by Produtora Midtrack.

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2 Comments

  1. Kaylene Emery 8 March 2023 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this Jim. It’s goes a long way toward helping those of us who seek to discern His will over the many many things which influence us or distract us or actively seek to capture our attention and to win our vote.
    Looking forward to essay three.

  2. Jim Twelves 12 March 2023 at 9:56 pm - Reply

    Thank you Kaylene. I am sorry, Part 3 will not be up just yet, may be end of March.

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