You might want to try an enlightening experiment as we get closer to election day. Put your normal preconceived notions about politics aside for a few days and open your mind to the possibility that nearly everything you’re being told via broadcast and radio news is entirely scripted, and specifically designed via behavior-modification techniques to “nudge” your choices in a predetermined direction.
I know, the tinfoil conspiracies are emerging once more. But just for the moment consider trying the experiment, and, if nothing comes of it, you will have reinforced your independence as a political-news consumer with measured political thought.
On the other hand, you might gain meaningful insight into what most of us already know intuitively: Something is dreadfully wrong with the political coverage in mainstream media. We voters consume daily reporting but gain no substantive information that would otherwise stimulate our cognitive abilities. Comparisons of candidates are impossible, as there is nothing meaningful to compare. Issues are so over-simplified and one-sided depending on who is doing the reporting, leaving most of us with an abysmal lack of factual data informing our opinions. Yet opinions we have en masse, and divisively strong ones. How can that be, if we are so ill-informed?
The experiment is simple. When you are watching and/or listening to political overage (which is constant throughout cable and network broadcast news and talk radio), pay close attention to your emotional state. Nearly all coverage is purposely delivered to elicit an emotional response from you for a very strategic reason: Emotional responses are far more difficult to overcome if one is trying to establish a new or different perspective.
Generally, emotional responses are the result of stimulation of the limbic system in our brains, considered to be the lower-functioning part of our brains in terms of cognitive abilities. The cerebral cortex is where the higher functions of abstract thinking occur that allow us to sort things out based on rational analysis of facts and figures. Limbic responses are more knee-jerk and, if strong enough, can block further cerebral response(s) that are often necessary in discerning reality.
Decades of research in psychology, behavior science, and physiology have established how to stimulate our brains for learning, and for conditioned responses – for instance, Ivan Pavlov’s work with neutral stimuli to generate a conditioned response and B.F. Skinner’s use of reinforcement. This behavior modification has been refined and advanced exponentially over the past century. Coupled with well-researched learning and conditioning techniques, the mainstream media has deployed behavior modification throughout its programming.
Broadcast media and talk radio use conditioning to override higher-functioning responses by targeting its consumers’ limbic systems via techniques such as re-framing, repeated affirmations, memes, false opposition, guided speculation, imitative learning, distraction and denial, classical and operant conditioning, and cognitive dissonance.
All of these techniques are rife throughout broadcast and talk-radio news, where they can be utilized most effectively. Now that the media is almost entirely owned by six corporations, the talking points can be easily predetermined and disseminated consistently.
Consumers paying attention are well aware of the homogenous content across channels, regardless of political-party affiliation. For example, Rush Limbaugh and Thom Hartmann and Rachel Maddow and Megyn Kelly are all discussing the same topics each day. The only difference between these hosts’ delivery is the parties to whom each assigns blame.
The strongest emotional responses occur when the stimuli are negative. But to keep consumers from retreating to common sense or cognitive resolution to overcome the barrage of negativity required to elicit these more resistant responses, the stimuli must be overly simple, acceptable, and believable. Repeated affirmations solidifying that all societal problems are the other party’s fault, regardless of the exhaustive evidence to the contrary, are how media operatives achieve consumers’ unquestioning buy-in to its messaging.
Cognitive dissonance plays a key role in how the media uses behavior modification to influence collective thought. Cognitive dissonance is defined as the mental stress caused when a person holds two conflicting beliefs at the same time, acts contrary to a belief or value, or is introduced to new ideas that conflict with existing ones he or she holds.
People strive for consistency between their “expectations” and “reality.” Because of the dissonance created by such conflict, people will react to reduce the dissonance in different ways via behavioral change, accommodation, adjustment, rejection, or denial.
It is a well-known behavior that people often take the path of least resistance. So to avoid dissonance, we tend to congregate with like-minded people. We seek the comfort of reinforcement of our ideas and beliefs through affirmation by others who see the world as we do. Media operatives know this and use it to their purposes.
The political coverage this cycle provides an excellent opportunity to pause and examine how media is using behavior-modification techniques to influence November’s election. Regardless of whom you support politically, there can be no denying the overt imbalance in coverage of the two major-party candidates, including the lack of coverage of all third-party candidates.
The political content is pathological in its absurd lack of substance and issue-based analysis. Consumers are bombarded with a media strategy of emotion-driven sound bites designed to sabotage character by using repeated assaults on our collective limbic systems.
Meanwhile, there is deliberately obtuse coverage – or no coverage at all – of highly relevant events about the candidates that media should have an unconditioned salivation response to report but doesn’t. Why is that? Media’s abdication as the people’s watchdog, the Fourth Estate, should be the overriding concern on all consumers’ minds, regardless of party affiliation.
The real fallout is the lost credibility of American mainstream media. Regardless of whom you support, there is no coming back from the knowledge that the media abandoned its primary responsibility of unbiased coverage to properly inform, instead demonstrating an unapologetic, glaring journalistic dishonesty on both sides that has no redemption.
In the spirit of following the money, it deserves noting that Hilary Clinton’s campaign has spent $100 million so far, the lion’s share going to mainstream media. Donald Trump’s campaign has spent $15 million. Whose political boots do you think the media is going to shine for that kind of financial infusion? The political establishment (both Democrats and Republicans) controls the media with this ever-increasing and massive level of campaign spending, thus effecting its financial sustainability.
The cognitive dissonance relative to our media is bubbling up, and we must each choose how to resolve it. If we continue to pick the lesser of two evils, it is still picking evil, and there is no squaring that – morally or otherwise.
If we can’t shake loose from media manipulation to even consider candidates from other parties, then we voters are so much more the problem then any establishment candidacies from the two sanctioned parties.