Thursday, August 24, 2006

World: TV distorts perceptions - the cure is?

"We are not rational enough to be exposed to the press"
- Nassim Nicholas Taleb

An article in this week's New Scientist discusses how television distorts one's perception of reality. For instance if you see a plane crash on the news, it affects your perception of the relative safety of air travel, as opposed to driving. The article (reproduced in full only here) mentioned research highlighting a greater level of post-traumatic stress disorder amongst people who watched 9/11 coverage as against those who didn't.

This is not greatly surprising. If tv is a window into the world, it's a greatly distorted one. It creates particular bias because the impact is so immediate. To a lesser extent (given the difference in impact) the same thing applies to newspapers, particularly tabloids. That's why, for example, so many people end up thinking the odds of their child being abducted are actually quite good! Taleb's argument is that intellectual sophistication is not enough to overcome this manufactured bias in perception. [it's worth reading more of Taleb's discourse here.]

The obvious solution is to avoid high-impact media, tabloids, and talkback radio, and pay attention to research and statistics wherever you see them. Otherwise, no matter your reckoning of your ability to filter, your perception will be skewed.

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