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ANALYSIS BY

Stanislava P. Jovanovic

MA in Psychology

Faculty of Philosophy Nis

Plzen, Czech Republic

 
Stanislava P. Jovanovic

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Stanislava P. Jovanovic is a psychologist, currently working as a writer in the field, which allows her to maintain a wide spectrum of professional engagement and constantly learn about new concepts and findings. She had worked with socially endangered groups for several years, mostly with children and young people. She is a certified peer educator and a peer life coach, with vast experience in organizing workshops, trainings, courses, seminars etc. She is also a certificated assertive communication trainer.

 
Joined On:
July 06, 2017
Last Active:
April 02, 2018
 

PsY Rating

The analyst's overall summary, as applicable, of the accuracy of the psychology and the subject's potential to be psychologically influential or manipulative.

A higher rating means the psychology is more accurate and positive.

04/02/2018

Buzzwords And How They Manipulate Our Perception

Have you ever noticed how media (all media, right and left, mainstream and alternative) tend to show a particular liking for a word or a phrase from time to time? More precisely, this fondness seems to go through a sort of weekly or biweekly swap. You can hear every media personality (and their guests) talking about a “nothingburger,” for example, every single day for a week or so. And then it disappears just as astoundingly as it emerged, only to be replaced by another such buzzword. Bill Maher even generalized this tendency of the US media and called America a “buzzword nation.”  This article will take a deeper look into what such tendency results in. As will be shown, it is a fairly dangerous phenomenon that should not be disregarded as a mere curiosity.

Buzzword-ing from the Psychological Perspective

Why so much drama, you might ask? A complete analysis of the extent of the media’s use of buzzwords surpasses the intention of this article. Instead, let’s look into how psychology views such occurrence.

Among other psychological tools misused to the media’s advantage is the use of buzzwords to label. Labeling, to put it simply, presents the way in which the language used to describe a person (or, if we may expand this slightly, events and socio-political occurrences) affects, and even manipulates, our perception of that person. In labeling theory, it’s not only others’ perception that is bent when a label is used, the labeled person also falls under the same influence and tends to change their self-perception. Research also shows that labeling has the power to exert a very swift and persistent effect even on the most basic perceptual processes, such as detection of the presence of a stimulus, visual discrimination, or categorization. Interestingly, as one study revealed, if an odor is labeled positively or negatively, we will be inclined towards perceiving it as more or less pleasant. Although this is a simplified presentation of the findings, what is interesting is that the authors of this study argued that labels can, at least partially, create olfactory illusions.

So, what does this tell us? If language has such a profound effect on what we consider a most basic perception, one that relies on our senses (which we usually believe are errorless), what does labeling do to more complex cognitive and emotional processes—such as how we perceive topics presented by the news and the media in general?

Labeling in the US Media

The US media, knowingly or not, utilizes this principle to its maximum. It’s difficult to turn on news and not hear identical reporting all over the media spectrum. Amazingly, it doesn’t matter if it is left or right channel, independent or mainstream reporters, one event is described with the exact same phrasing over and over again. If you try to objectively observe your own reaction to such repetition, you will begin to notice what it does to your thinking process. First, you will waver in your initial (independent) evaluation of the reported event. All of a sudden, you will probably abandon your first impression and start to shape it in accordance with the buzzwords being served to you. And this reshaping will probably be more and more prominent with every repeat of the word or phrase. Much like with brainwashing.

What’s happening here is that the media is taking advantage of our minds’ inclination toward categorizing impressions and information. It’s a process that occurs for the sake of a quicker and more effective processing of the stimuli we are exposed to. But, this happens at the expense of details. It is a natural process taking place even under natural circumstances, when no one is trying to influence you. For example, if you were to tell someone a new fairytale, and they should tell it to someone else, and so on, after just a few storytellers, the story itself would change to more neatly fit into your typical fairytale. Authentic details would be lost. That is just the nature of our memory and our cognition in general.

Media successfully speeds this process by framing their stories within labels and cutting off the excess details. Yet, in real life, it's those details that might matter, that might make a difference, that make an event unique. Those details are what could help you form your own opinion. But by replacing details with labels, especially when buzzwords and catchy phrases are used, the media constructs our viewpoint, our reality. And it is a rather impoverished reality, if I may add.

Independent Thinker?

To conclude with the point—what I’m saying here is that not only labeling something in a specific (positive or negative) manner will sway your perception of it. Just labeling it will! And to me, this is a problem. I believe it should be a problem for everyone who values their own autonomy and freedom of thought. Yes, it’s your job—if you’re an independent thinker, or if you’re trying to be—to be alert to and reject labels. Maintain your independence of thought by seeking the details for a broader, more realistic, and truthful understanding.

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