Psychologist Floyd Rudmin uses psychological research on how perceptions can be shaped by linguistic manipulation to provide insight into the propaganda preparing us for the attack on Iran.
American psychologist, Elizabeth Loftus, and her colleagues have shown how rhetorical tricks can make people misconceive reality. In one study by Loftus and Zanni (1975), people were shown a film of a car accident, and then asked questions about what they saw. A random half of the witnesses were asked “Did you see a broken headlight?” and the other half were asked “Did you see the broken headlight?” In the first version, 7% of the people said they saw a broken headlight. In the second version, 17% said they saw the broken headlight. In fact, there was no broken headlight. If someone uses the definite article “the”, then listeners and readers tend to presume that what follows actually exists.
In another study by Loftus (1975), people viewed a film and one group answered a questionnaire that included, “Did you see the children getting on the school bus?” and the other group did not get this question. A week later, people filled out a second questionnaire that contained the question, “Did you see a school bus?” Only 6% of the people who had not been exposed the the question a week earlier recalled seeing a school bus, but 26% of those who had been exposed to the the question a week earlier said “yes” they had seen a school bus. In fact, there was no school bus.
Thus, by the simple use of the, just one time, 10% of the people could be made to believe that something was there that was not there. With some additional details that fit, like children getting on school buses, and with the delay of a week to consolidate the false information, 20% of people could be made to believe that something was there that was not there.
Imagine the effectiveness of the, repeated over and over and over and over, for weeks and months, by authorities whom we are trained to trust, providing lots of information that coherently fits with the false claims. For example, the Independent article quoted President Bush using the three times:
“We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.”
There are in fact attacks on US forces (but done by anti-Iranian Sunni insurgents), and there are in fact networks providing advanced weapons for these attacks (but coming from pre-war Iraqi caches and pilfered from US supplies). Those two true facts serve to add coherence and believability to the unsubstantiated claim about “the flow of support from Iran and Syria” for which there is in fact no evidence. Thus we come to confidently believe something is there that is not there.
1 comment January 17th, 2007