Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Third Person and Racism

A Non-Political Post. Yah!

One of my favorite areas of research is the third-person effect. Simply put, this is the notion that the media content won't influence me, but it will influence other people. I also like it because it touches on another favorite topic of mine: perceived knowledge, or what you think you know.

Third person is not only interesting from a psychological perspective but it also has policy ramifications. If I think other people are susceptible to certain kinds of media content, I may be more likely to support banning such content or at least placing constraints on it.

One small study looked at children and perceptions about race. The argument is straightforward: racism is learned, not inherited, and kids who think they are unaffected by certain media content may become less critical viewers or readers. It's an interesting hypothesis.

Knowledge in this modest study had no effect on third-person perceptions, perhaps due to the way it was measured, especially self-ratings on how knowledgeable they are. I would expect self ratings of knowledge to be positively associated third-person effects. Or, to get out of PhDweeb mode, the more you think you know, the more likely you'd see yourself as unaffected by some media content but see others as victims of such content.

This area deserves more work. We know third person is associated, in part, with maintaining self esteem, and I'd guess that perceived knowledge fills much the same role, but the latter should also have other sources. What people know is often positively associated with what they think they know. One might boost third person perceptions, the other might lower them. That's a hypothesis waiting to be tested.

Note: it's so nice to not blog about presidential politics.

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