by Joshua Moraes The truth behind the brand. Source: 11 Unknown Facts & Stories About The World’s Biggest Brands How we came to be, what we did to get to where we are and what we’re called. For each one of us, it’s a different story. Some boring as hell, some interesting enough to be […]
Hours after the Las Vegas massacre, Travis McKinney’s Facebook feed was hit with a scattershot of conspiracy theories. The police were lying. There were multiple shooters in the hotel, not just one. The sheriff was covering for casino owners to preserve their business.
The political rumors sprouted soon after, like digital weeds. The killer was anti-Trump, an “antifa” activist, said some; others made the opposite claim, that he was an alt-right terrorist. The two unsupported narratives ran into the usual stream of chatter, news and selfies.
“This stuff was coming in from all over my network of 300 to 400” friends and followers, said Mr. McKinney, 52, of Suffolk, Va., and some posts were from his inner circle.
But he knew there was only one shooter; a handgun instructor and defense contractor, he had been listening to the police scanner in Las Vegas with an app. “I jumped online and tried to counter some of this nonsense,” he said.
In the coming weeks, executives from Facebook and Twitter will appear before congressional committees to answer questions about the use of their platforms by Russian hackers and others to spread misinformation and skew elections. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Facebook sold more than $100,000 worth of ads to a Kremlin-linked company, and Google sold more than $4,500 worth to accounts thought to be connected to the Russian government.
Agents with links to the Russian government set up an endless array of fake accounts and websites and purchased a slew of advertisements on Google and Facebook, spreading dubious claims that seemed intended to sow division all along the political spectrum — “a cultural hack,” in the words of one expert.
Yet the psychology behind social media platforms — the dynamics that make them such powerful vectors of misinformation in the first place — is at least as important, experts say, especially for those who think they’re immune to being duped. For all the suspicions about social media companies’ motives and ethics, it is the interaction of the technology with our common, often subconscious psychological biases that makes so many of us vulnerable to misinformation, and this has largely escaped notice.
Skepticism of online “news” serves as a decent filter much of the time, but our innate biases allow it to be bypassed, researchers have found — especially when presented with the right kind of algorithmically selected “meme.”
At a time when political misinformation is in ready supply, and in demand, “Facebook, Google, and Twitter function as a distribution mechanism, a platform for circulating false information and helping find receptive audiences,” said Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government at Dartmouth College (and occasional contributor to The Times’s Upshot column).
For starters, said Colleen Seifert, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, “People have a benevolent view of Facebook, for instance, as a curator, but in fact it does have a motive of its own. What it’s actually doing is keeping your eyes on the site. It’s curating news and information that will keep you watching.”
That kind of curating acts as a fertile host for falsehoods by simultaneously engaging two predigital social-science standbys: the urban myth as “meme,” or viral idea; and individual biases, the automatic, subconscious presumptions that color belief.
The first process is largely data-driven, experts said, and built into social media algorithms. The wide circulation of bizarre, easily debunked rumors — so-called Pizzagate, for example, the canard that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring from a Washington-area pizza parlor — is not entirely dependent on partisan fever (though that was its origin).
For one, the common wisdom that these rumors gain circulation because most people conduct their digital lives in echo chambers or “information cocoons” is exaggerated, Dr. Nyhan said.
In a forthcoming paper, Dr. Nyhan and colleagues review the relevant research, including analyses of partisan online news sites and Nielsen data, and find the opposite. Most people are more omnivorous than presumed; they are not confined in warm bubbles containing only agreeable outrage.
But they don’t have to be for fake news to spread fast, research also suggests. Social media algorithms function at one level like evolutionary selection: Most lies and false rumors go nowhere, but the rare ones with appealing urban-myth “mutations” find psychological traction, then go viral.
There is no precise formula for such digital catnip. The point, experts said, is that the very absurdity of the Pizzagate lie could have boosted its early prominence, no matter the politics of those who shared it.
“My experience is that once this stuff gets going, people just pass these stories on without even necessarily stopping to read them,” Mr. McKinney said. “They’re just participating in the conversation without stopping to look hard” at the source.
Digital social networks are “dangerously effective at identifying memes that are well adapted to surviving, and these also tend to be the rumors and conspiracy theories that are hardest to correct,” Dr. Nyhan said.
One reason is the raw pace of digital information sharing, he said: “The networks make information run so fast that it outruns fact-checkers’ ability to check it. Misinformation spreads widely before it can be downgraded in the algorithms.”
The extent to which Facebook and other platforms function as “marketers” of misinformation, similar to the way they market shoes and makeup, is contentious. In 2015, a trio of behavior scientists working at Facebook inflamed the debate in a paper published in the prominent journal Science.
The authors analyzed the news feeds of some 10 million users in the United States who posted their political views, and concluded that “individuals’ choices played a stronger role in limiting exposure” to contrary news and commentary than Facebook’s own algorithmic ranking — which gauges how interesting stories are likely to be to individual users, based on data they have provided.
Outside critics lashed the study as self-serving, while other researchers said the analysis was solid and without apparent bias.
The other dynamic that works in favor of proliferating misinformation is not embedded in the software but in the biological hardware: the cognitive biases of the human brain.
Purely from a psychological point of view, subtle individual biases are at least as important as rankings and choice when it comes to spreading bogus news or Russian hoaxes — like a false report of Muslim men in Michigan collecting welfare for multiple wives.
Merely understanding what a news report or commentary is saying requires a temporary suspension of disbelief. Mentally, the reader must temporarily accept the stated “facts” as possibly true. A cognitive connection is made automatically: Clinton-sex offender, Trump-Nazi, Muslim men-welfare.
And refuting those false claims requires a person to first mentally articulate them, reinforcing a subconscious connection that lingers far longer than people presume.
Over time, for many people, it is that false initial connection that stays the strongest, not the retractions or corrections: “Was Obama a Muslim? I seem to remember that….”
In a recent analysis of the biases that help spread misinformation, Dr. Seifert and co-authors named this and several other automatic cognitive connections that can buttress false information.
Another is repetition: Merely seeing a news headline multiple times in a news feed makes it seem more credible before it is ever read carefully, even if it’s a fake item being whipped around by friends as a joke.
And, as salespeople have known forever, people tend to value the information and judgments offered by good friends over all other sources. It’s a psychological tendency with significant consequences now that nearly two-thirds of Americans get at least some of their news from social media.
“Your social alliances affect how you weight information,” said Dr. Seifert. “We overweight information from people we know.”
The casual, social, wisecracking nature of thumbing through and participating in the digital exchanges allows these biases to operate all but unchecked, Dr. Seifert said.
Stopping to drill down and determine the true source of a foul-smelling story can be tricky, even for the motivated skeptic, and mentally it’s hard work. Ideological leanings and viewing choices are conscious, downstream factors that come into play only after automatic cognitive biases have already had their way, abetted by the algorithms and social nature of digital interactions.
“If I didn’t have direct evidence that all these theories were wrong” from the scanner, Mr. McKinney said, “I might have taken them a little more seriously.”
Sep 04, 2017 | Contributors: Prof. Dai Xianchi and Prof. Robert Wyer, Department of Marketing, CUHK Business School
By Fang Ying, Senior Writer, China Business Knowledge @ CUHK
Empty space or white space has been widely used in advertising and interior design to give the feeling of a clean and elegant look. “Less is more” is the message in the modern world. However, will “more” space become “less” effective in communication?
Only a few empirical studies have investigated the effect of empty space on consumer behavior, and the findings are not clear and sometimes contradictive. For instance, a previous study found that surrounding the picture of a product by empty space increases perceptions of the product’s prestige value, thereby increasing evaluations of the product. However, other research suggest that the empty space surrounding a verbal message could draw people’s attention away from the message and decrease the resources they devote to processing it, and thereby decreasing the message’s impact.
In a recent study, Prof. Dai Xianchi, Associate Professor of the Department of Marketing at CUHK Business School, further looked into the effect of empty space on persuasion. The study was carried out alongside his collaborators, Prof. Robert Wyer, Visiting professor of the same department and university, and PhD student Canice Kwan, now Assistant Professor at Sun Yat-sen University.
“People’s construal of the implications of a message goes beyond its literal meaning and the white space that surrounds a text message can affect the message’s persuasiveness,” says Prof. Dai.
The researchers proposed that when a verbal statement is surrounded by empty space, it activates more general concepts that there is room for doubt to the validity or importance of the message content.
“In other words, the statement is less persuasive when it is surrounded by empty space than when it is not,” Prof. Dai points out.
The Studies and Results
Seven studies in both laboratory and real-life settings were conducted.
In one study, the team collected 115 images of statements posted on a Facebook page over a one-month period from November to December in 2013, and downloaded a screenshot of each message image to record the amount of space (its image size and text space), audience responses (the total number of likes, shares, and comments), and the presence of non-text elements (a picture of a cartoon character and celebrities, nature scene background, etc.). At the same time, they used the numbers of likes, shares and comments as the indicators of effectiveness.
The results showed that individuals’ likings for the statements decreased as the amount of empty space increased. In other words, the impact of a statement decreases when it is surrounded by empty space.
In another study, 126 Hong Kong undergraduate students performed several marketing studies that were unrelated to the experiment. After that, the researchers announced that they could take away copies of the research paper related to the studies on a table next to the exit.
The copies were placed next to two pasteboards, each with a note that says “PICK ME!”.
The text, font size and type of the note were exactly the same, but the pasteboards were in two different sizes and conditions: A4 size with empty space surrounding the text, and A5 size with limited space surrounding the text.
The results revealed that more students (59.6%) picked up the papers in limited space condition than those printed in the empty space condition (37.7%).
“It indicates that participants complied less with the message’s implication when the message was surrounded by substantial empty space,” Prof. Dai says.
To examine whether the amount of space surrounding a persuasive message would influence recipients’ opinions when the message was generated randomly by a computer or intentionally by the communicator, another study was performed.
This time, 266 US participants were asked to evaluate two popular quotes from the Internet that emphasized the importance of personal warmth: “Hold on to whatever keeps you warm inside” and “A kind word can warm three winter months”. Each quote was presented in either a box with little empty space or a box with substantial empty space.
Unlike in other studies, a headline was also added at the top of each quote. In the condition where the message was randomly generated, the headline stated: “The message and the configuration of the image (e.g., font, color, or other visuals) do not reflect the personal attitude or intention of the author”. On the other hand, in the condition where the quote reflected the personal attitude or intention of the author, the headline read: “The message and the configuration of the image are the result of the author’s free choice”.
In each case, participants were asked to rate the persuasiveness of each statement along three questions: “To what extent do you like the quote?”; “To what extent do you think the quote is important?”; and “To what extent do you agree with the quote?”, from a scale of 1 (not at all) to 7 (very much). They also had to report their perceptions on how strongly the quote conveyed its opinion and the time they took to make their evaluation was recorded.
As predicted, the results showed that when the message was generated intentionally by the communicator, participants perceived it to convey a non-significantly weaker opinion when there was substantial empty space than when there was little empty space.
“That is to say, empty space should not influence the persuasiveness of the message if readers believed that the configuration of space and message was generated randomly by a computer,” said Prof. Dai.
“Our experiment suggested that people infer the strength of statement from the design – whether the statement is surrounded by empty space or full space,” he continued.
“This study demonstrates how visual clues, in particular empty space, affect the impact of verbal messages. All our results have shown people find a message less persuasive when it is surrounded by empty space than when it is not,” says Prof. Dai.
“This offers practical insights on advertising and even in political campaigns. For example, a candidate may want to present his messages in limited space rather than empty space to convey his messages more effectively,” says Prof. Dai.
Kwan, Canice, Xianchi Dai, and Robert Wyer, “Contextual Influences on Message Persuasion: The Effect of Empty Space,” Journal of Consumer Research,2017
Stated simply, it’s easier to develop meaningful feelings of ownership over a physical entity than a digital one. By Christian Jarrett
When technological advances paved the way for digital books, films and music, many commentators predicted the demise of their physical equivalents. It hasn’t happened, so far at least. For instance, while there is a huge market in e-books, print books remain dominant. A large part of the reason comes down to psychology – we value things that we own, or anticipate owning, in large part because we see them as an extension of ourselves. And, stated simply, it’s easier to develop meaningful feelings of ownership over a physical entity than a digital one. A new paper in the Journal of Consumer Research presents a series of studies that demonstrate this difference. “Our findings illustrate how psychological ownership engenders a difference in the perceived value of physical and digital goods, yielding new insights into the relationship between consumers and their possessions,” the researchers said.
In an initial study at a tourist destination, Ozgun Atasoy and Carey Morewedge arranged for 86 visitors to have their photograph taken with an actor dressed as a historical character. Half the visitors were given a digital photo (emailed to them straight away), the others were handed a physical copy. Then they were asked how much they were willing to pay, if anything, for their photo, with the proceeds going to charity. The recipients of a physical photo were willing to pay more, on average, and not because they thought the production costs were higher.
It was a similar story when Atasoy and Morewedge asked hundreds of American volunteers on the Amazon Mechanical Turk survey website to say what they would be willing to pay for either physical or digital versions of the book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and physical or digital versions of the movie Dark Knight. The participants placed higher monetary value on the physical versions, and this seemed to be because they expected to have a stronger sense of ownership for them (for the physical versions, they agreed more strongly with statements like “I will feel like I own it” and “feel like it is mine”). In contrast, participants’ anticipated enjoyment was the same for the different versions and so can’t explain the higher value placed on physical.
In further studies, the researchers showed that participants no longer placed higher value on physical objects over digital when they would be renting rather than buying – presumably because the greater appeal of owning something physical is irrelevant in this case. Likewise, the researchers found that participants who identified strongly with a particular movie (The Empire Strikes Back) placed higher value on owning a physical copy versus digital, but participants who had no personal connection with the film did not. This fits the researchers’ theorising because the greater sense of ownership afforded by a physical product is only an enticing prospect when there’s a motivation to experience a strong sense of connection with it.
If it is a greater psychological sense of ownership that makes physical objects so appealing, then the researchers reasoned that people disposed with more “need for control” will be particularly attracted to them – after all, to own something is to control it. Atasoy and Morewedge found some support for this in their final study. The higher that participants scored on a “need for control scale” (they agreed with items like “I prefer doing my own planning”), the more than they tended to say that physical books would engender a greater sense of ownership, and, in turn, this was associated with their being willing to pay a higher amount for them, compared with digital.
The findings have some intriguing interesting implications for companies seeking to boost the appeal of digital products, the researchers said. Any interventions that might engender a greater psychological sense of ownership over digital entities will likely boost their value – such as allowing for personalisation or being able to interact with them in some way. Similarly, the results may help explain the ubiquity of digital piracy – because people generally place a lower value on digital products (even when they see the production costs as the same physical) it follows that many of us consider the theft of digital products as less serious than physical theft.
WRITTEN BY Hanna Kozlowska
Sean Parker told Axios: “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
Most people don’t need to be told they’re addicted to technology and social media. If reaching for your cell phone first thing in the morning doesn’t tell you as much, multiple scientific studies and books will. Now the people responsible for this modern-day addiction have admitted that was their plan all along.
Silicon Valley bad boy Sean Parker, Facebook’s first president, told Axios in an interview that the service “literally changes your relationship with society,” and “probably interferes with productivity in weird ways.” And, he added, “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
Facebook’s main goal is to get and keep people’s attention, Parker said. “The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, … was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’”
Attention, he said, was fueled by “a little dopamine hit every once in a while,” in the form of a like or a comment, which would generate more content, in the forms of more likes and comments.
“It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”
Parker said that the inventors of social media platforms, including himself, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Instagram’s Kevin Systrom, “understoood consciously” what they were doing. “And we did it anyway.”