Tuesday, March 30, 2010

More on the challenge of mythbusting

A belated nod to my University of Georgia colleague Barry Hollander, who recently published a paper on public perceptions that's gotten some attention.

Hollander uses a study of persistent misperceptions about Barack Obama's religion -- he's a Christian, not a Muslim -- to illustrate how people tend to hang on to incorrect beliefs even after the false perceptions have been corrected in the media.

I've posted before about both the importance and the difficulty of mythbusting. It's growing increasingly clear that people are wired to cling to their beliefs, even in the face of contradicting evidence, and also that repeating a myth for the purposes of debunking it tends to reinforce it.

I've also noted that the greatest challenge for journalists today might be finding ways to re-aggregate a perhaps hopelessly fragmented nation so that we can all pay attention long enough to have a constructive conversation. Everyone doesn't need to agree on everything, but it would be helpful to keep the more fantastical stuff off to the margins instead of having it dominate the discussion.

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