Friday, August 7, 2009

Do People Learn from Faux News?

It's been a question raised by scholars and by those somewhat, um, less scholarly -- do people learn from entertainment faux news programs such as the funny stuff by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert? The answer so far has been mixed. Programs increase feelings of efficacy but decrease trust, seem to aid learning or perhaps not. They influence how people process the news, what factors they consider, or sometimes not.

So I'm re-reading a study in Journal of Communication by Kim and Vishak (story about it here). I blogged about it earlier, but I wanted to re-read the thing and see if any fresh ideas emerge other than what I blogged on earlier. The basics remain the same: mainstream news media exposure led to greater and more accurate knowledge in a controlled experiment than did The Daily Show.

What seems to explain the difference is the goal of the user. This gets a bit into uses and gratifications research. If my goal in watching Stewart is to be entertained, my brain engages with the program in a very different way than it does with CNN or reading news online. Let's face it, watching CNN is a lot of things, but entertaining ain't one of 'em. If my goal is to laugh at current events and politicians, then the brain is not in "learning" mode, thus actual learning decreases and the accuracy of what I remember suffers as well.

So it's in part what we bring to the TV. Yes, TV news suffers from delusions of adequacy, but when we catch up with the news we're in a different frame of mind, one willing to absorb and retain information -- if only a little since it's merely TV after all. When we sit to watch Colbert or Stewart be funny, it's a completely different take, even if people do say in surveys they watch such programs to keep up with the news.

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