Posts Tagged ‘Fox News’

How Could a Trump Triumph? —- Part Two

February 7, 2018

The question posed in this post is identical to a chapter title in “Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump” by Allen Francis, MD.

Many people were disturbed as to how an advanced country like Germany could be taken over by the Nazis. Theodor Adorno conducted a survey in the Unites States that revealed that many Americans also have the characteristics of what he called, “the Authoritarian Personality.” These characteristics include strongly defending conventions; being submissive to those above, and domineering to those below; devaluing intellectual activity; overvaluing power and toughness; blaming others; being cynical; and believing conspiracy theories and superstitions. People with this “Authoritarian Personality” obey, rally together and sometimes become powerful and dominating leaders. They respond aggressively to outsiders especially when they feel threatened. By acting tough, Trump displays his own (and plays to his followers) authoritarian inclinations.

It is clear that Trump’s base consists of people with this Authoritarian Personality. This was quite clear to his response to the demonstrators in Charlottesville. He said that there were good people demonstrating with the neo-nazis. He is reluctant to disavow support from the nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. And it is clear why. They constitute the majority of his solid base.

Trump is the ultimate confidence man. There’s the statement “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Trump says our world is broken and that he and he alone can fix it. Francis writes, “But the transparency of Trump’s deceptions did not discourage his faithful followers from accepting that he is truthful and that the reporters he hates are the “most dishonest people on earth.”

“In a fearful and uncertain world, Trump is ever the clever confidence man, cynically trading on the overconfidence that is an inherent part of human psychology. He embodies within himself and unconsciously exploits in others, the “Dunning-Kruger effect.” There have been several healthy memory blog posts on the “Dunning-Kruger effect.” These Cornell psychologists have shown that people with less ability at any given task are more likely to overestimate their own skill and underestimate the skill of others. In effect people are massively ignorant of what they don’t know. They flaunt their ignorance and show contempt for the individuals who have expertise that the ignorant people need. If you don’t know what you don’t know, you can’t correct your ignorance. If you don’t know when you are making a mistake, you’ll keep making it. Francis quotes Shakespeare, “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man know himself to be a fool.”

It is next to impossible to campaign against this ignorance. There are ample contradictions in what Trump says himself to discredit him, but his supporters fail to notice these contradictions. And they have contempt for people with the relevant knowledge to deal with the problems we face.

Francis wrote “Trump understood that people who feel desperate, anxious, angry, and helpless are not in a mood to listen to rational arguments. His fear mongering pitch is that we are now living in the worst of worlds, in the worst of times; that there are even worse dangers ahead; that enemies lurk on all sides; and that we can trust him to keep us safe. He daily succeeds in passing off a fusillade of “alternative facts’ because frightened people are ready to accept them. Human irrationality in the face of stress has a long past and may, unfortunately, also enjoy a great future.”

“In the no-holds-barred U.S. political wars, bold untruth has become the most powerful of all political weapons. Ultraright-Wing talk radio, conspiracy theory internet sites, and Fox News spew forth a constant spate of alternative facts and extreme opinions that are often outright lies and always anything but ‘fair and balanced.’ They follow the chilling advice of Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels: ‘It would not be impossible to prove, with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas in disguise.’”


Brain Training Games in Perspective

July 23, 2017

In the July 11, 2017 issue of the Washington Post there was an article by Jenna Gallegos titled “Brain training games fail to deliver exceptional cognitive boost, study finds”. This article summarized a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience in which 128 young adults were tested for mental performance after playing either Luminosity brain-training games or regular video games for 10 weeks. Researchers saw no evidence that commercial brain training games lead to improvements in memory, decision-making, sustained attention, or ability to switch between mental tasks.

So what can do these results mean? Luminosity might want to work on developing games that will show improvements in mental performance when compared against regular video games. Suppose that either the current study had or a future study will show improvements in mental performance when compared to regular video games. Although these results would be positive, they would not prove that playing them warded off dementia.

It is already known that cognitive activity does decrease the likelihood of dementia, and that cognitive activity can produce a cognitive reserve such that even when the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s, the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles, appear dementia might be delayed or forestalled altogether. After all, there have been autopsies performed on people whose brains were plagued with amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles who never exhibited any cognitive or behavioral symptoms of the disease.

The healthy memory blog has warned against waiting for drugs that prevent or cure Alzheimer’s (see the healthy memory blog post, “The Myth of Alzheimer’s). The healthy memory blog does recommend a healthy lifestyle that features growth mindsets for continually learning and meditation and mindfulness. Social activities are also an important part of this healthy lifestyle.

HM also argues that it is not just mental activity, but the type of mental activity that is important. Here it is important to understand the different types of cognitive activity Daniel Kahneman described in his book “Thinking Fast and Slow.”

System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. This processing is so fast that it is executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1. Learning is associative and slow. For something to become a System 2 process much repetition and practice is required. Activities such as walking, driving, and conversation are primarily System 1 processes. They occur rapidly and with little apparent effort. We would not have survived if we could not do these types of processes rapidly. But this speed of processing is purchased at a cost, the possibility of errors, biases, and illusions.
System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly regard as thinking. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors do slip through. Learning, particularly the early stages, are largely a System 2 process.

System 1 processing occurs rapidly over frequently travelled pathways in the brain. However, System 2 processing involves traveling over many pathways, some which are little used to find supporting, refuting, or conflicting information, or in establishing new links for learning

It is HM’s conjecture that it is System 2 processing that is most beneficial to healthy memories, the formation of a cognitive reserve, and the forestalling or prevention of dementia.

So what types of experiments could test this hypothesis. Here are two possibilities;

One hypothesis is that voters who voted for Trump engaged primarily, if not exclusively ,in System 1 processing. and are more likely to suffer from dementia. Many, if not most, decisions were based on emotions, which are System 1 processes. Other decisions where based on religion or party affiliation. So these people were essentially just following orders. Even if people gave an answer such as jobs or the economy, did they bother to think critically how Trump promised to accomplish his promises, or were they just placing blind faith in Trump?

So the argument here is that voters who did not vote for Trump engaged in System 2 processing that kept them from making the error of voting for Trump. Consequently, they have healthier memories and are less likely to safer from dementia.

Another hypothesis is that viewers of Fox News are more likely to suffer from demential. Fox’s “Fair and Balanced” news is accomplished by presenting news that appeals to existing biases and beliefs. This enables Fox viewers to use System 1 processes almost exclusively and to avoid or minimize System 2 thinking.

But what about viewers who do not view Fox news? As they receive a wider range of views in the news coverage, some, but not all, of the news will require System 2 processing. In other words, these viewers will need to think more, which might well assist in building a cognitive reserve and warding off dementia.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


The Fox News Effect

November 27, 2016

In 2012 a Fairleigh Dickinson University Survey reported that Fox News viewer knew less about current events that those who didn’t follow the news at all.  The survey did not include items on esoteric knowledge but rather basic facts such as “Which party has the most seats in the House of representatives, right now.  Fox News had failed to impart which party held the majority to many of its viewers.

Another survey involved twelve questions spanning current events, geography, science, religion, and personal finance.  Fox News viewers averaged 57% correct.  This was better than the no-news crowd, but the lowest of all the actual news sources.  The most informed news audiences, scoring over 65% included those who followed PBS, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, and, believe it or not, The Daily Show.

Poundstone presents a variety of explanations for these results, even though they are based on correlational studies, so cause and effect cannot be ascertained.  These are all conjectures.

Since this is HM’s blog he is free to presents his own conjectures, so here they are, but readers should be aware that they are only conjectures.  Fox advertises that it presents fair and balanced news, but the fairness and the evenness of the balance depends on a particular point of view.  Fox has identified that point of view and caters its presentations to it.  As it has the largest audience, one can only conclude that it has been successful.

But this fairness and balancing requires neglecting certain information, information that might have been on the survey.  Even though many, if not most, Fox viewers have other sources of information, they tend to identify Fox with truth and neglect contrary information.  With a remote in hand a viewer can easily ignore information that is not validated by Fox.

The problem might not be so much one of being ill-informed, but of being wrongly informed.  HM’s interaction with Fox viewers has led him to believe that they live in an alternative reality that is not reflected in the lower performance of Fox viewers on these surveys.  HM has found this alternative reality to be most disturbing.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Head In The Cloud

November 18, 2016

“Head In The Cloud” is an important book by William Poundstone.  The subtitle is “Why Knowing Things Matters When Facts Are So Easy to Look Up.”  Psychologists make the distinction between information that is accessible in memory and information that is available in memory.  Information that you can easily recall is obviously accessible in memory.  However, there is other information that you might not be able to recall now, but that you know that you know it.  This information eventually becomes accessible and can appear suddenly unsummoned in consciousness.

Transactive memory refers to information you can get from our fellow humans or from technology.  Most information available in technology can readily be summoned via Google searches.  An extreme view argues that since all this information is available, we do not need to remember the information itself as long as we know how to search for the information.  Whenever we encounter new information we are confronted with the question as to whether we need to commit this information to our biological memory.  This is a nontrivial question as committing information to memory requires cognitive effort, thinking, or in terms of Kahneman’s Two Process Theory, engaging our System 2 processes.  The healthy memory blog  has a category devoted to mnemonic techniques explicitly designed to assist in memorizing information as well as other discussions regarding how to make information memorable.  But all of this involves effort, so why bother if it can simply be looked up?  “Head in the Cloud” explains the benefits of moving some information from the cloud into our brains.

Poundstone describes an experiment done in 2011 by Daniel Wegner.  He presented volunteers with a list of forty trivia facts—short, pithy statement such as “An ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain.”  Half of the volunteers were told to remember the facts.  The other half were not.  Within each of these groups half were informed that their work would be stored on the computer, and half were told that their work would be immediately erased after the task’s completion.    All these volunteers were later given a quiz on the facts they typed.  It did not matter whether they had been instructed to remember the information or not.  It only mattered if they thought their work was going to be erased after the task.  These volunteers remembered more regardless of whether they were told to remember the information.

The following is directly from the text “It is impossible to remember everything.  The brain must constantly be doing triage on memories, without conscious intervention.  And apparently it recognizes that there is less need to stock our minds with information that can be readily retrieved.  So facts are more often forgotten when people believe the facts will be archived.  This phenomenon has earned a name—the Google effect—describing the automatic forgetting of information that can be found online.”

HM does not disagree with any of the above quote.  However, he is alarmed by what is omitted.  That omission regards a conscious decision as to whether the information should be further processed to increase its accessibility without technology and whether it is related to other information that might require further research.  It is true that we are time constrained, so that depending on the situation the time available for such consideration will be important.  But as Poundstone will show, it is important to get some information out of the cloud and into the brain, and we can consciously alter the processing we give to the retrieved information.  Sans attention, it will likely remain in the cloud.

Poundstone reports an enormous amount of research conducted by a new type of polling called an Internet panel survey.  These are conducted by an organization that has recruited a large group of subjects (the panel)  who agree to participate in surveys.  When a new survey begins, the software selects a random sample of the panel to contact.  E-mails containing links are sent to the selected participants, typically in several waves to achieve a demographic balance closely approximating the general populations.  The sample can be balance for sex, age, ethnicity, education, income, and other demographic markers of interest to the research project.

A prior healthy memory blog post appropriately titled “The Dunning-Kruger Effect” discusses the Dunning-Kruger Effect.  Dunning is a psychology professor and Kruger was a graduate student.  The effect is that “Those most lacking in knowledge and skills are least able to understand their lack of knowledge.”  The flip-side of this effect is that those most knowledgeable are most aware of any holes in their knowledge.

“Actor John Cleese concisely explains the Dunning-Kruger effect in a much-shared You Tube video:  ‘If you’re very, very stupid how can you possibly realize that you’re very, very stupid?  You’d have to be relatively intelligent to realize how stupid you are…And this explains not just Hollywood but almost the entirety of Fox News’”

The chaos and contradictions of the current political environment can perhaps best be characterized as a glaring example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.  Just a few moments of contemplation should reveal the potential danger from this effect.  Poundstone’s book reveals the glaring lack of knowledge in many important areas by too many individuals.  He also provides ample evidence of the benefits of moving certain information from the cloud and into our brains.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


System 2 Processing for Building a Cognitive Reserve

November 14, 2016

The immediately preceding post suggested a mechanism for building a cognitive reserve to decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Although it is frequently said that Alzheimer’s disease cannot be prevented or cured, there have been autopsies done of people whose brains had  defining amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles required for a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, but who never exhibited any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms.  So there have been individuals who had Alzheimer’s, but who never knew that they had the disease!  The explanation for these individuals is that they had built up a cognitive reserve.

The healthy memory post “Cognitive Activity and the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease” summarizes a study in which reported cognitive activity was the best predictor of a decreased risk for Alzheimer’s.  This finding held even when the factors of educational level and job prestige were statistically controlled.  The post “How Cognitive Activity Decreases the Risk of Alzheimer’s”  proposed a mechanism to identify how cognitive activity decreases the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Our brains are working constantly even when we sleep.  So how can the type of cognitive activity that builds this cognitive reserve be identified?  This explanation depends upon understanding Kahneman’s Two Process Theory of Cognition.  This theory was expanded upon in Kahneman’s best selling book, “Thinking Fast and Slow.”  System 1 is fast and is called intuition.  System 1 needs to be fast so we can process language and make the fast decisions we need to make everyday.  System 1 is also the seat of our emotions.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking.  System 2 requires mental effort and our attentional processes.  Stanovich has elaborated System 2 in the development of a more comprehensive intelligence quotient.  But for our purposes, this discussion included Stanovich’s concept as it involves even more thinking and attentional processes.

System 1 is fast because it uses defaults to expedite processing with minimal cognitive resources.  Whenever we read or hear something that corresponds to our beliefs or expectations only System 1 is involved.  However, one of the responsibilities of System 2 is to monitor System 1  processes to check for erroneous processing.  Whenever we hear or read something that does not correspond to our beliefs, there is an identifiable response in the brain, which signals the initiation of System 2 processes.  System 2 can decide to curtail further processing and to move on, or to engage in a more thorough process of memory search, checking for logical contradictions, and so on.  All of this is thinking and requires cognitive effort.

Similarly when we are learning new information or a skill, System 2 is engaged.  This is why learning can be frustrating and demanding.  System 2 stays engaged until learning begins and then gradually disengages until it becomes an almost automatic System 1 process.  This learning is a matter of engaging different parts of the brain, establishing new neural pathways.  It is also likely that old neural pathways are  reactivated.

So System 2 processing establishes new neural pathways and reactivates related previous neural pathways.  So regardless of what happens with respect to amyloid plaque or neurofibrillary tangles, the brain remains healthy and our memories remain healthy and can continue to grow cognitively..

When we are doing System 1 processing our brains are effectively on cruise control.  When we are doing System 2 processing we are engaged in cognitively effortful processing and are thinking.  But is there a way to identify System 2 processing?  Does System 2 processing have a signature?

It is possible that there is. Research has been done in which statements are played to research participants while their brains are being monitored.  When a statement is presented with which a subject disagrees, there is a noticeable response.  Perhaps this response could be used as a signature for System 2.

Even if this works, there is an implementation problem,  How would this be done?  It might be possible to evaluate different cognitive processes with respect to the amount of effortful processing.  This could be an area of research that would generate a large volume of research papers with the concomitant reward of faculty tenure.

Perhaps a simpler way would be to compare Trump Voters against those who did not vote for Trump.  The respective samples would be monitored to see how many suffered from Alzheimer’s at what ages.  For HM, the only conceivable way that individuals could vote for Trump would be to do very little, if any, System 2 processing regarding him.

A related approach would be to compare viewers of Fox news  against a control sample who did not watch Fox news.  Both groups would be tracked to see who fell ill with Alzheimer’s at what age.  The appeal of Fox news is that it is designed to cater to the biases of viewers and to minimize any disturbing or conflicting news.  It can be viewed in cruise control rarely, if ever, having to engage in System 2 processing.  This is probably why Fox news is so popular—it requires little, if any, cognitive effort.  On the other hand those poor viewers of unbalanced news have to engage in System 2 processes to ascertain credibility levels for their news.  The  prediction would be for higher and earlier incidences of Alzheimer’s for Fox News viewers.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Why When Matters are Objectively Good Do We Feel So Bad? Part Two

August 21, 2016

HM had heard commentators raise the question of why when matters are objectively good, do people feel so bad.  These two posts are an effort to provide explanations.  Part One of this article was basically an explanation of how the news can make us feel bad contrary to the objective situation.   Part Two explains how a particular type of news network can dissociate your feelings from objective reality.  Specifically this is Fox News (which bears no relationship to the Fox in the immediately preceding post).   Fox advertises fair and balanced news, which it is true if you are a right wing conservative.  Conservatives were prone to complain of a bias in the news, almost to the point that there was a conspiracy to conceal the truth.  HM needs to be cautious here and not claim that only conservatives see biases in the news.  Any of us can have a feeling of bias when the presentation is not in accordance with out beliefs, HM knows that he does.  But then he kicks in his higher order thinking processes and realizes that others have different views from his, and that tthere might be some value in this other view.  But this requires him to move from System 1 intuitive information processing to System 2 reasoning.  In laymen terms, he has to think.  This can be time consuming and, for some, painful.

Roger Ailes is given the credit for creating Fox news.  Everyone believes that his motives are political.  However, even if the goal were profit, this would still be a good format.  And in fact, it is profitable, as HM thinks that Fox is the most profitable news network.  First of all, the default position for most people is conservative, particularly if they belong to a racial or socioeconomic group that is benefiting under the present system.  And news consistent with their views that will not cause them to think is highly palatable.

The problem is that the world is dynamic.  It changes and there is a necessity for governments to adapt to these changes.  But this requires people to think, and they find this uncomfortable.  Moreover, they double down on not thinking and become dogmatic.  Dogmatism is anathema to any democracy as democracies require not only changes, but also give and take.

But the motives of Fox News are indeed political.  It plays the same role for conservatives that Pravda played for the former Soviet Union.  When not in power, the message is that the situation is bad.  The best example here is what Trump says and objective reality.  Obama took the United States from the verge of a worldwide economic collapse to one of the leading economies today, but Fox viewers tend to be oblivious to these facts.

Another example is Hillary Clinton and her negatives.  Admittedly, she contributed to some of these negatives, but they are largely the result of being consistently hammered for many years by Fox news.  If Fox  news did to Mother Teresa what they have done to Hillary Clinton, Mother Teresa would also have high negatives.

Fox news has become a running joke.  The satirical review group, The Capitol Steps, featured Hillary Bashing multiple times in their latest CD, “What  to Expect When You’re Expecting.”

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.