Shippensburg University
Psychology Department

Psi High Newsletter

October, 2006
Volume 31, No. 1


Are misperceptions related to news sources?
Accurate understanding of events varies among media consumers

In the United States, the most popular news sources are electronic media. Unfortunately many media consumers come away with an inaccurate understanding of events. For example, Steven Kull, Clay Ramsay, and Evan Lewis (“Misperceptions, the Media, and the Iraq War,” Political Science Quarterly, 2003-2004) found that 60 percent of respondents had one or more important misperceptions regarding the Iraq war. In that study, consumers of some news sources were more likely to have misperceptions than consumers of other news sources. For example, 23 percent of consumers preferring NPR/PBS had misperceptions, whereas 80 percent of consumers preferring Fox News had misperceptions. There were also differences in popularity among the specific new sources. NPR/PBS was the least frequently used news source (91 respondents) and Fox News was the most frequently used news source (520 respondents). For viewers of Fox News, consumers who reported following the news very closely had higher rates of misperception than those who reported following the news less closely. Level of attention to the news was not found to be a significant factor with NPR/PBS consumers.

Given the findings of the correlational study by Kull, Ramsay, and Lewis, Shippensburg University undergraduate Psychology majors Tracy Carbaugh and Lori Barnes, along with Shippensburg University Psychology professor Jeff Bartel, decided to conduct an experiment investigating “The Effect of News Source on Political Beliefs” (presented at the 2006 meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association in Baltimore). The researchers randomly assigned participants to view either Fox News or CNN for about 25 minutes, then had them complete a questionnaire in which they rated from Strongly Disagree (1) to Strongly Agree (6) their support of various statements relating to the news stories they had seen. One story was about the resignation of the Lebanese government due to the assassination of the former prime minister. There were statistically significant differences between those who had viewed Fox News and those who had viewed CNN. Fox News viewers were more likely to endorse incorrect reasons for the resignations (“Grassroots organization/the people,” Fox News = 4.73, CNN = 3.78; “Pressure from the United Nations,” Fox News = 4.65, CNN = 3.78), whereas CNN viewers were more likely to endorse the actual reason for the resignations (“Killing of the former Lebanese prime minister,” Fox News = 3.85, CNN = 4.75).

These two studies suggest there is a relationship between the news source one uses and the likelihood of developing misperceptions about current events.


How does music affect problem solving?
For better and for worse

One well-researched personality dimension is introversion-extraversion. Based primarily on the work of Hans Eysenck, researchers have found that introverted people prefer reduced levels of stimulation because their brains automatically take in much of what surrounds them. Conversely, extraverted individuals like higher levels of stimulation because, compared to introverts, their brains routinely take in less of what is happening around them. When comparing extraverts to introverts, the brain differences between the two types of individuals lead introverts to prefer more serene activities and extraverts to pursue more stimulating activities.

Shippensburg University Psychology professor Toru Sato and undergraduate Psychology majors Stephanie Ficiak and Shannon Baum conducted two studies to investigate the introversion-extraversion personality dimension as it relates to musical preference and problem solving (“Personality, Music, and Problem Solving Ability” presented at the 2006 meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association in Baltimore). In the first study, participants filled out the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire-Brief Version (published by Dr. Sato in 2005). Questions in that test include items such as the following: “Can you get a party going?” Do you like plenty of action and excitement around you?” and “Are you a talkative person?” Respondents answered each question on a scale from “Not at all” (1) to “Extremely” (5). The research participants scoring in the lowest third on the introversion-extraversion scale were classified as introverted and those scoring in the highest third were classified as extraverted. The introverts and extraverts then listened to two musical selections (counterbalanced with regard to order of presentation). One piece was calming (Mozart’s “Sonata for two pianos in D major”) and the other was stimulating (“The call of Ktulu” by Metallica). Each participant rated the pieces on a scale from “I do not like at all” (0) to “I like very much” (10). All four sets of the following comparisons were statistically significant: extraverts liked the stimulating music more than the calming music; introverts liked the calming music more than the stimulating music; extraverts liked the stimulating music more than the introverts did; and introverts liked the calming music more than the extraverts did.

In the second study the researchers used the same questionnaire and classification procedure to identify a new group of introverts and a new group of extraverts. Based on random selection, some participants listened to the calming music written by Mozart and others listened to the stimulating music performed by Metallica. As the music played, they worked on solving spatial problems. Again, all four of the following comparisons were statistically significant: extraverts demonstrated better problem solving when listening to the stimulating music than when listening to the calming music; introverts demonstrated better problem solving when listening to the calming music than when listening to the stimulating music; introverts showed better problem solving than extraverts when listening to calming music; and extraverts showed better problem solving than introverts when listening to stimulating music.

So how does music affect problem solving? It depends. Important factors include both the person’s tendency toward introversion or extraversion and whether the music is calming or stimulating.


When is it anxiety provoking to imagine what might have been?
Many athletes know the answer

Counterfactual thinking involves focusing on “what might have been” in a situation rather than on what actually happened. One can think of something good that almost happened or something bad that almost happened. Previous research has shown that when athletes, such as bronze medalists, focus on how close they were to a much worse outcome, they tend to be happier than those, such as silver medalists, who focus on how close they were to a much better outcome.

As part of a study (“Sport Anxiety, Performance, and Counterfactual Thinking in Athletes” presented at the 2006 meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association in Baltimore) that looked at a number of factors, Shippensburg University undergraduate Psychology major Jenn Keeley and Psychology professor Scott Madey examined the relationship between counterfactual thinking and sport anxiety when the athlete was focusing on a poor performance. Measures included a questionnaire to assess sport anxiety and ratings (on a scale of 1 to 6) of how much the athlete had thought about what might have happened (both at the time of the poor performance and since then). There were statistically significant positive correlations between thinking about what one almost achieved and the athlete’s ongoing level of anxiety related to competitive sport.

The findings support the notion that having a trait of being anxious about sport is related to focusing on poor performance and ruminating over how close one was to a better outcome. A more constructive use of counterfactual thinking would be to analyze what could have been done better and to adjust one’s strategy in hope of achieving greater success next time.


How do friends influence one another?
Both actions and perceptions are important

For adolescents, what is the difference between a friend and an acquaintance? Research has demonstrated that friends typically engage in frequent social interactions that are positive and that encourage them to act in moral ways. When friends see each other acting in prosocial ways, such as sharing and cooperating, they usually validate and reinforce each others’ actions.

Researchers Carolyn McNamara Barry (Loyola College in Maryland) and Kathryn R. Wentzel (University of Maryland) investigated “Friend Influence on Prosocial Behavior: The Role of Motivational Factors and Friendship Characteristics” (Developmental Psychology, 2006). In an attempt to understand how friends influence each other, the researchers hypothesized that social learning, as demonstrated by prosocial goals leading to prosocial actions, is strengthened as the emotional bond increases, as the friends spend more time with each other, and as the relationship becomes more stable.

In two successive years during the spring, the researchers collected information from 9th and 10th graders in a suburban high school. They asked participants to write the names of their three best same-sex friends, saying that they could also list fewer than three. When individuals listed each other, the researchers classified them as reciprocal friends, and it was reciprocal friends on which the study focused. In order to assess the emotional bond between individuals, the researchers used questionnaires that asked students to rate the closeness and importance of the friendship. The investigators used a different questionnaire to assess the frequency of interaction. Stability was coded as 3 (if both individuals listed each other both years), 2 (if only one mentioned the other during the follow-up year), or 1 (if neither mentioned the other during the follow-up year). The authors examined the pursuit of prosocial goals via a questionnaire that asked students to rate how often they attempted to achieve various endeavors that were either academic (such as sharing with classmates what they had learned) and personal (such as trying to cheer up someone who was having a tough time). In order to collect information on prosocial actions of students, the researchers used a peer nominating procedure to identify individuals whom others perceived as cooperative, helpful, and willing to share. The investigators measured the perceived prosocial action of each friend by having the other person in the relationship complete a questionnaire that rated the helpfulness of the friend.

The researchers concluded that perceiving prosocial action in a friend during the first year was associated both with others perceiving prosocial action in the individual during the follow-up year and with self-reported pursuit of prosocial goals. Those effects became stronger as friends intensified their emotional bond and increased the frequency of their interaction. Interestingly, friendship stability was not a significant influence. In other words, the authors found that friendships do not have to last a year in order to have a positive impact on adolescents’ goals and behavior.

Editor: Kenneth France, Ph.D.

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