Monday, September 15, 2008


So I'm working on a piece of research with a simple underlying thesis -- names matter. This gets into how we structure knowledge, but the basic idea is that asking someone a political knowledge question that starts with the name (as in, who is Dick Cheney?) is easier to answer than one that starts with the office (who is the vice president?).

Simple, eh?

Peek under the hood, into the engine of the brain, and this has some interesting twists and turns and cables and hoses, but what I'm working on is a media connection, that people who rely on entertainment-based news or even TV news will be more successful at questions in which they are given the name versus questions in which they are prompted instead with the office. People who rely in print news, a more active process, should be better able to handle both kinds of questions. Again, this gets into how each form of news is remembered and how this in turn influences memory structure.

Okay, so what did I find? Some support, at least in my initial data analysis. I've got a lot of fine tuning to do, numbers to crunch, data to manipulate, and I've got to think through some complicated interaction effects. But I think I'm on to something.

There is little practical use for this beyond understanding how people structure political information in their heads, except that the kinds of knowledge questions you ask in a survey can strongly influence who is likely, or unlikely, to answer them. As people become more and more reliant on skimming the news, catching it on The Daily Show, or a few minutes of CNN they will become less able to answer the "hard" questions.

In some ways this resembles the results I found in my Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media piece a year or so ago, in which I found some support for the idea that watching comedy news programs was more associated with recognition of political information than with actual recall of political facts.


John Arkwright said...

Speaking of politician's names, one of my favorite was Carol Moseley Braun's opponent in her first national election. The Republican's name was Rich Bond. I guess it could have been worse--Filthy Lucre, Greedy Miser, or Robin Cheatham (the real name of a relative of a friend, who happens to be a lawyer).

Hollander said...

My favorite name of a politician from my reporting days I can't remember, except for his nickname which was on the ballot:

Firstname "Piece of Meat" Lastname

Story would be a lot better if I could remember the guy's whole name.