Friday, May 30, 2008

Psychology: Yale's National Risk and Culture Study tells us more of what we already sensed about how manipulation works

Well, they don't quite call it manipulation. But what they are talking about in the Cultural Cognition Project's Second National Risk & Culture Study: how we are persuaded, usually by organized lobbies, for better or worse:

For example, people are more likely to be persuaded of a problem if they like the proposed solution and they are more likely to be persuaded of the proposed solution by someone who takes a position that the hearer did not expect, while sharing their general cultural views:

Individuals’ expectations about the policy solution to global warming strongly influences their willingness to credit information about climate change. When told the solution to global warming is increased antipollution measures, persons of individualistic and hierarchic worldviews become less willing to credit information suggesting that global warming exists, is caused by humans, and poses significant societal dangers. Persons with such outlooks are more willing to credit the same information when told the solution to global warming is increased reliance on nuclear power generation.

How individuals respond to arguments about the risks associated with mandatory HPV vaccination for school age girls is highly dependent on the perceived values of the persons making such arguments. Individuals who are culturally predisposed to a particular position are even more likely to form that view when it is espoused by an advocate who shares their cultural outlooks. Such individuals are less likely to form that view—and cultural polarization is reduced generally—when a person who shares their values advocates a position on the HPV vaccination that is contrary to such individuals’ cultural predispositions.

It's fun imagining marketing campaigns using these ideas. For example, If someone wanted to convince the public that the mind does not really exist (the materialist position) and therefore manipulation of our mental states is harmless and good for us, it would be better to get a warm, fuzzy therapist to advocate that view than a cold, narcissistic research scientist. (We may feel culturally close to the therapist even if we have lingering doubts about her position.) And she should also hint that we are not - after all - responsible for the things we feel guilty about. (We are more willing to agree to her views if the solution she proposes sounds attractive than if it sounds unattractive.)

By contrast, suppose the cold, narcissistic research scientist said, "Look, my neuroscience research provides no reason whatsoever to think you are not responsible for your bad habits. Grow up and change!" Many people who would actually like to believe that they are in control might be inclined to resist the message.

What feels good and what's correct are constantly being conflated by our society's not-so-hidden persuaders.

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