Thursday, 17 October 2013

First strike framing - how the modern media manipulates memory


Just a note to give a name to what the media does all the time with big visceral impact news stories - stories about atrocities, particularly nasty crimes - they ensure that the first report is such as to frame the long-term memory of the story.

This operates on the well-understood principle that strong emotions tend to become firmly linked by memory to the specific circumstances in which those emotions are experienced - then when a memory of the specific circumstances is recalled, so is the emotion: and that emotion affects the cognitive-processing of the memory.


For example, the first report of a terrorist bombing atrocity will create a strong emotion - a visceral response - that will: 1. tend to be remembered enduringly; and 2. tend to become attached to some specific circumstance surrounding that visceral response.

The media will therefore, either speculatively or simply by association, e.g. by mentioning in close temporal or spatial relation to the evoking of the emotion - link the visceral response to the atrocity with something of which they disapprove: Christians or Right wingers usually.

The memory laid-down will then contain both the strong negative emotion, and the specific linked circumstance - i.e. the cocnept of Christian or Right winger.

Then recalling memory of the atrocity will evoke Christians or Right wingers; while the evoking of Christains or Right wingers will often evoke the emotions associated with the atrocity.

And all of this happens without need for conscious awareness.

(Note: this mechanism is distributed through much of the psychology of learning and memory, but the mechanims is best described in the work of Antonio R Damasio: )


Conversely, the mass media will either omit mentioning the name of Leftist-approved groups (eg. Leftist-designated 'victim' groups) - so that this specific circumstance is not then linked by memory to the bad feelings evoked by the atrocity.

Or, on the rare occasions in which the approved group cannot avoid being mentioned, it is spatio-temporally kept-apart from the nasty stuff, or padded-around with boring stuff - or indeed the whole report made unclear and boring (perhaps by usage of extreme bureacratic language), so the specific circumstance is not remembered, or the visceral impact of the actual event is played-down (in a context where the mass media usually exploits such things to the limit and beyond).


All this is in line with basic psychological theory regarding memory and how it works - stuff I teach to first year students.

Once the frame is established - once there is a negative emotion associated in memory with the Leftist disliked groups such as Christians of Right wingers - then people are very resistant to change.

People exposed to the mass media do not necessarily know why thinking about these groups evoke nasty emotions, but it does; and because they do not know where this association came from - this link, once made, is very difficult to undo.

It seems that we are very attached to our first impressions; and the mass media knows this and exerts itself to the utmost in managing specifically these first impression; because it doesn't much matter what happens in subsequent news reports.


Once people have been given the feeling that Christians or Right wingers are (somehow) responsible for an atrocity, then that feeling may - in practice - be ineradicable.

Once the emotional link has been made between a terrorist act and Christians, for instance, then people don't readily forget it, and are remarkably-reluctant to change it.


Or, when an atrocity is not linked with its obvious perpetrators by the first report, when the first report says nothing about perpetrators; or labels them only using indirect, incomprehensible or boring speculations, hedged-about with qualifications and using unfamiliar technical terms; or slips immediately from labelling to worrying about the possible unfair backlash against people of the type under consideration - then the visceral emotion has nothing to attach-itself-to and is less likely to be remembered.

People are less likely to remember what happened when the emotion is free-floating, meaningless, as not been allowed to attach to any particular circumstance; because raw emotioin cannot be-made-sense-of, cannot be integreated with other knowledge.

Insofar as people do remember atrocities unattributed at first exposure, they will have a feeling that there is some uncertainty about who really did that bad thing.


The media know all this stuff, and they use it all day, every day - they get in with the first strike, manipulate our first impressions; and that is all they really need to do.

We also need to know it, and recognize what they are doing to us.