Search

On this page you can find all the media literacy materials that are created by BECID media experts. The materials are free to use and distribution is allowed!

Useful materials

Professor Peter Gross (University of Tennesse, USA) gives a speech on the topic of disinformation and says that disinformation can affect everyone, for example, Russia‘s and China‘s disinformation can affect people even in USA.

We like to think of ourselves as rational beings who, when presented with enough information and time for contemplation, can make good choices and judgements. Well, ha-ha, the joke’s on us, because we are not. In this series of short articles about our beautiful and flawed brains – more specifically about cognitive biases – we will look at five common cognitive biases that directly connect to media and information literacies (MILs). The foundation of MILs is knowing oneself and others, and what better time to remind ourselves of our biases than at the brink of elections! So hopefully next time we find ourselves in the middle of a heated online debate about political views or simply as targets of political campaigns, we will know better than to let our brains hijack our judgement through these cognitive shifts.

Ever been a part of a group project where the whole kick-off meeting was spent arguing about THE BEST template for the final presentation or perhaps even discussing in-depth the size and font of the title? You may have fallen victim to the law of triviality or ‘bikeshedding’ – people tend to assign disproportionate weight to absolutely non-important, trivial questions and nuances and ignore or slip over the core of the issue.

Wait. What does it have to do with bike sheds?

The term ‘bikeshedding’ stems from an example the historian and public administration scholar Cyril Northcote Parkinson gave (already by the 1950s) to illustrate the traps we set ourselves in complex decision-making and organisational communication. In the story, a fictional committee is tasked with approving the plans for a nuclear power plant, a highly complex and technical project. However, the committee members spent the majority of their time and energy discussing and debating … the design and colour of the staff bicycle shed! The reason is very simple – the more straightforward and less complex a topic is, the easier it is for people to understand and have an opinion on it. This results in discussions becoming overly focused on the trivial at the expense of the important.

The law of triviality is familiar to many professions and fields – when a (larger) group of people start to hyperfocus on some tiny detail, the big picture becomes fuzzy and might end up as something else altogether. From IT to graphic design, from strategic planning to updating national school curricula, don’t even get me started on the climate crisis – there are bike sheds eeeeverywhere! In practical terms, recognising the bikeshedding effect can be essential in project management and decision-making processes, a good moderator or leader will not let the group get stuck on choosing the colour of the pens for the meeting.

Overanalysing the sportswear to avoid going to the gym

The law of triviality is also noticeable in our everyday lives, a much-practiced form of procrastination where we dwell on small decisions. Mulling over mayonnaise, ruminating about rakes, and contemplating corn cobs, instead of thinking long and hard about the big picture and huge decisions of our lives.

Sometimes, we spend more time compiling the day’s to-do list than the actual chores and duties. We give three hours to calligraphically painting the bullet point lists and might even add a bit of glitter and some stickers to it, only to find out that we only have a very limited time to get the things on our to-do list actually done. Boom! Bikeshedding.

Because our brains are drawn to smaller chunks and easier topics, we also often prefer these ‘superficial’ layers in our media habits too. We engage in bikeshedding when we are critiquing media (special effects vs societal implications) or conversing over social media trends (celebrity posts vs effect of celebrification).

A journalist or communication specialist can also fail at their job by narrowing the focus of the story or campaign to trivial and failing to grasp and tell the whole story. Discussions around media representation, such as the portrayal of gender, race, or sexuality in media, can sometimes become overly focused on individual casting choices or character design, rather than addressing systemic issues of representation and diversity. Media and information literacies are essential skills and knowledge that individuals need to effectively navigate and critically engage with the vast amount of information and media they encounter in today’s digital age. Knowledge about the digital environments, the architecture of platforms, social norms, media genres, etc., is increasingly important. But the foundation of media and information literacy is self-awareness and the ability to analyse others too – understanding how our brains and perceptions work. Otherwise, these flaws can be used to make us scared and confused and thus, easily mouldable.

 

Author

Picture of Maria Murumaa-Mengel
Maria Murumaa-Mengel, PhD

Maria Murumaa-Mengel (PhD in Media and Communication) is currently working as an Associate Professor of Media Studies at the Institute of Social Studies, University of Tartu, and as a member of the Baltic Engagement Centre for Combating Information Disorders. She is involved in research primarily focusing on young people’s use (and non-use, ‘going off the grid’) of social media, different literacies (e.g. digital, MIL, social media, porn), and various online risks (e.g. gendered online hate, online shaming, online child sexual abuse and grooming). Maria Murumaa-Mengel’s main strengths lie in teaching and supervising – she is the recipient of the 2020 Estonian National Award for the Teacher of the Year and has supervised several award-winning theses. In regard to digital media literacies, she is a firm believer in the ‘know thyself’ ground rule – it all starts with knowing how we as people process information in the increasingly mediatised and datafied world.

Original source: https://participationpool.eu/resource/bikeshedding-a-cognitive-bias-that-draws-our-attention-to-the-trivial/

We like to think of ourselves as rational beings who, when presented with enough information and time for contemplation, can make good choices and judgements. Well, ha-ha, the joke’s on us, because we are not. In this series of short articles about our beautiful and flawed brains – more specifically about cognitive biases – we will look at five common cognitive biases that directly connect to media and information literacies (MILs). The foundation of MILs is knowing oneself and others, and what better time to remind ourselves of our biases than at the brink of elections! So hopefully next time we find ourselves in the middle of a heated online debate about political views or simply as targets of political campaigns, we will know better than to let our brains hijack our judgement through these cognitive shifts. 

The Ikea effect is a cognitive bias in which we assign greater value to something we have been involved in creating, to which we have devoted our care and time. The name, of course, refers to the well-known furniture manufacturer, which has built its entire business model around this shift. Why sell medium-to-low-quality stuff to people and have them be grumpy about it when you can make them assemble the affordable furniture themselves and through that action make the customers happy and proud, sitting on their “self-made” wonky chairs. The effect has been known for a long time but the relatively recent Ikea label seems to have stuck – it is a widely recognised global brand, the science seems whimsical and the connection is somewhat surprising and thus memorable. 

Examples of this effect in action are plentiful: from various DIY products that require a lot of effort in assembly, painting, and tuning; to the sale of garden and agricultural products where customers are invited to pick their own produce and then pay for it; from why people who have renovated their own houses tend to anchor the selling price very high; to crowdsourcing or lending a helping hand in world cleanup efforts. Essentially, the strong emergence of this shift is even nice – people are seen as active co-creators rather than passive consumers. 

How much would you pay for this magnificent clump of wrinkled paper? 

Researchers have come up with clever yet simple studies to test this effect – one team of scientists got people to do origami and paid them for their effort, but then asked: ‘This origami crane you just made really belongs to us because we paid you for your time. But we’ll tell you what, we might be persuaded to sell it to you. Please write down the maximum amount of money that you would be willing to pay to take your origami creation home with you.’ The cunningness of their research design lies in the existence of another group – people who had not made anything with their hands but were similarly asked, ‘how much would you pay for these creations?’ The difference was vast, the makers truly believed in the quality and aesthetics of their crooked cranes, willing to pay five times as much as the ‘buyers’.  

The Ikea effect is a cognitive bias that makes us value effort – if something is too easy, it is not perceived as meaningful and valuable. We are creative creatures and need some challenges, a sense of accomplishment, figuring difficult things out, finding the easter egg! 

Participatory media kicks the Ikea effect into gear 

Why am I talking about this here? The foundation of media and information competence is self-awareness – understanding how our brains and perceptions work. Because if we don’t, others can use these flaws against us, whether it be to get elected to a position of power or manipulate us into buying stuff we do not need, or make us scared and confused and thus, easily mouldable. Here’s an example from the field of media literacies: If I have been involved in creating and strengthening a certain online group, I may view the broader impact of that group, the practices that spread within it, and its values through somewhat rose-tinted glasses (e.g., not noticing the destructiveness of that group).  

Or, for example, if I have provided ideas for writing a journalistic story, sources, or hidden perspectives, I would appreciate that publication and article more highly. Online platforms and social media often feature user-generated content, such as reviews, ratings, and comments. Users may assign greater credibility and value to content created by peers or fellow users because they feel a sense of participation in the platform. Contemporary participatory culture gives us ample opportunities to let the Ikea effect take off.

Author

Picture of Maria Murumaa-Mengel
Maria Murumaa-Mengel, PhD

Maria Murumaa-Mengel (PhD in Media and Communication) is currently working as an Associate Professor of Media Studies at the Institute of Social Studies, University of Tartu, and as a member of the Baltic Engagement Centre for Combating Information Disorders. She is involved in research primarily focusing on young people’s use (and non-use, ‘going off the grid’) of social media, different literacies (e.g. digital, MIL, social media, porn), and various online risks (e.g. gendered online hate, online shaming, online child sexual abuse and grooming). Maria Murumaa-Mengel’s main strengths lie in teaching and supervising – she is the recipient of the 2020 Estonian National Award for the Teacher of the Year and has supervised several award-winning theses. In regard to digital media literacies, she is a firm believer in the ‘know thyself’ ground rule – it all starts with knowing how we as people process information in the increasingly mediatised and datafied world.

Original source: https://participationpool.eu/resource/ikea-effect-a-cognitive-bias-born-from-labour-of-love/

We like to think of ourselves as rational beings who, when presented with enough information and time for contemplation, can make good choices and judgements. Well, ha-ha, the joke’s on us, because we are not. In this series of short articles about our beautiful and flawed brains – more specifically about cognitive biases – we will look at five common cognitive biases that directly connect to media and information literacies (MILs). The foundation of MILs is knowing oneself and others, and what better time to remind ourselves of our biases than at the brink of elections! So hopefully next time we find ourselves in the middle of a heated online debate about political views or simply as targets of political campaigns, we will know better than to let our brains hijack our judgement through these cognitive shifts. 

Sometimes, it’s as if something starts ‘following’ you everywhere. You constantly hear the same song, see red cars everywhere, notice others using a particular term incorrectly in their speech, and get followed by ads with similar content online. In this article, we will look at a cognitive bias called the frequency illusion that gives people the impression that something is happening more often than is actually the case, making a phenomenon appear more widespread than it truly is. 

Terrorists and furry creatures 

This cognitive bias is also called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon and dates back to 1994 when a user of an online forum described to the web community how they learned about the existence of the German terrorist group Baader-Meinhof and then, immediately afterwards, started seeing the name everywhere. Many others in the forum shared similar experiences, and from there, the knowledge and the name made their way into the academic sphere. 

Frequency illusion can be connected to a cuter metaphor – in the field of economics and marketing, we talk about the ‘meerkat effect’. Meerkats behave like vigilant guards. Pop! The head goes up, scanning the surroundings, noticing everything, observing with great attention. Such a tendency towards hypersensitivity, a pattern of perception biased by our recent awareness, makes us notice things frequently, especially those we’ve recently become aware of or concepts that have been actively used, etc. For example, you will certainly notice the meerkat effect operating here and there within a few days. Or see images of meerkats. Or read a book chapter where a pet meerkat makes an appearance.  

The Big Other is watching me! 

It is believed that the ‘mechanics’ of the frequency illusion are built on selective attention. We can actually focus on very few stimuli, and even fewer consistently over a longer period. Also, our brains are easy prey to confirmation bias, meaning we look for evidence that supports our existing beliefs or hypotheses. If, for example, you believe that you are being followed online by… uh… ferns? horses? weight loss? weightlifting? or related ads and texts, then part of this can be attributed to extreme vigilance on that topic, which triggers the frequency illusion. The frequently appearing ‘object’ must usually be somehow noteworthy or important to the individual, receiving special focus. Think also of the saying, ‘When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’ For instance, if I’ve just become aware of a fascinating sociological theory, I’ll interpret every damn social phenomenon through that framework. It fits everywhere! 

I hear you protesting: ‘No, Maria! My phone is definitely listening to me! It’s been on the news and everything!’ Has it, though? Social media platforms are profiling us, but not necessarily by listening in – they compile thousands of data points and predict what could interest people ‘like you’, what you and your personal social network do and click and engage with. So, when you talk to your friend about Borat-inspired swimwear and the next morning a hairy neon-stringed moustache-man is following you in the digital ads, it might be triggered by location tracking. Your phones hung out near each other last evening? OK, you must be connected! Perhaps the triggers were the friend’s online searches, or how they watched those twelve clips of Borat, combined with your habit of ordering random quirky stuff on a whim. But indeed, there is reason to be suspicious – although the platforms and device-providers are saying that they do not listen in, they have also previously denied microtargeting and meddling in politics. And very often it is simply the frequency illusion in action. 

Frequency illusion in action 

Back to the bias in the context of media competence: one very common way in which the susceptibility to this specific illusion is used against us is advertising. Why are advertisements bombarded at us everywhere? To make you aware of the brand, notice it more, to have it readily accessible in your brain. Get that Prime energy drink, everybody is drinking it these days! (No, actually, you probably should think twice about it). 

Why am I talking about this here? Media and information literacies are essential skills and knowledge that individuals need to effectively navigate and critically engage with the vast amount of information and media they encounter in today’s digital age. Knowledge about digital environments, the architecture of platforms, social norms, etc., is increasingly important. But the foundation of media and information literacy is self-awareness and the ability to analyse others, too – understanding how our brains and perceptions work. 

Author

Picture of Maria Murumaa-Mengel
Maria Murumaa-Mengel, PhD

Maria Murumaa-Mengel (PhD in Media and Communication) is currently working as an Associate Professor of Media Studies at the Institute of Social Studies, University of Tartu, and as a member of the Baltic Engagement Centre for Combating Information Disorders. She is involved in research primarily focusing on young people’s use (and non-use, ‘going off the grid’) of social media, different literacies (e.g. digital, MIL, social media, porn), and various online risks (e.g. gendered online hate, online shaming, online child sexual abuse and grooming). Maria Murumaa-Mengel’s main strengths lie in teaching and supervising – she is the recipient of the 2020 Estonian National Award for the Teacher of the Year and has supervised several award-winning theses. In regard to digital media literacies, she is a firm believer in the ‘know thyself’ ground rule – it all starts with knowing how we as people process information in the increasingly mediatised and datafied world.

Original source: https://participationpool.eu/resource/frequency-illusion-a-cognitive-bias-that-lurks-everywhere-and-follows-you-around/

We like to think of ourselves as rational beings who, when presented with enough information and time for contemplation, can make good choices and judgements. Well, ha-ha, the joke’s on us, because we are not. In this series of short articles about our beautiful and flawed brains – more specifically about cognitive biases – we will look at five common cognitive biases that directly connect to media and information literacies (MILs). The foundation of MILs is knowing oneself and others, and what better time to remind ourselves of our biases than at the brink of elections! So hopefully next time we find ourselves in the middle of a heated online debate about political views or simply as targets of political campaigns, we will know better than to let our brains hijack our judgement through these cognitive shifts.

Today’s know-thyself info nugget relates to the ostrich effect (also referred to as the ostrich problem) where people tend to ignore and avoid useful but uncomfortable or negatively perceived information. The reason for this is the good old cognitive dissonance avoidance, meaning that when there is a discord between two or more pieces of information or emotions, it creates so much discomfort in us that we must give in somewhere in our logic/beliefs/behaviour.

A simple example – imagine that you’ve gone and spent a lot of money. Maybe it was a tourist trip, retail therapy, or a wild Friday night out. Perhaps you can relate to that feeling when you don’t even want to look at your bank account? Ostriching. Alternatively, in terms of health behaviour – diabetics sometimes avoid measuring their blood sugar levels, people struggling with cholesterol levels ignore taking new measurements, and a lump in the breast might not immediately lead someone to a mammologist. Ostrich effect – hiding from the problem. The list goes on and on: denying climate change, racism, sexism, economic recession… In each of these cases, the ostrich effect may lead to a closed echo chamber or a filter bubble, where individuals only expose themselves to information that confirms their existing beliefs and opinions.

Flightless bird as a symbol of flight responses

It is essentially a flight response, an intended or realised escape from the present situation. Stress situations trigger different coping strategies, usually falling into the response framework of fight-flight (or freeze). Fighting or fleeing from a perceived threat or attack are two significant categories of biobehavioural reactions to stressorsFight reactions and strategies are based on confronting danger, closely related to problem-solving and support-seeking. Flight reactions essentially function as running away from the stressor, an intended or realised escape from the present situation.

Flight response can manifest in our media usage patterns, as we sometimes don’t want to look at the news at all when we are afraid. Media avoidance can kick in, for example, when waiting and fearing for election results; being anxious about what the night has brought on the battlefield; or anticipating the new feats of a new virus. In fact, there is a whole direction in media studies that focuses on media avoidance practices. People may avoid certain genres, often including advertisements; journalism or media in general; specific topics, and so on. When we think about fundamental questions like slow living (The Slow Movement) or JOMO (joy of missing out), we may not, at a glance, want to directly associate it with ostriching. But avoiding a specific topic is definitely part of it. For example, COVID-19 news became an avoidance object for many – can’t be bothered, can’t keep up, don’t want to, constant updates, confusion, etc. ‘I’d rather not follow it at all!’ The invasion of Ukraine by Russia is another topic that can be noticed in media-avoidance practices. Here, one can ask where the line is drawn between justified and understandable self-regulation and taking care of one’s mental health and deliberately cutting oneself off from the essential shared information space of society. Interestingly, some cultural studies have pointed out that ostrich behaviour is more common in individualistic cultures.

Smear campaign against ostriches

By the way, the term ‘ostrich effect’ is complete slander! If I were an ostrich, I would demand justice and fact-based labelling of cognitive biases! Ostriches don’t bury their heads in the sand when danger is present. Often, they freeze, lowering their heads and bodies to attract less attention. It is believed that the myth of ostriches burying their heads in the sand arose because ostriches lay their eggs in a hole dug in the ground, not in a nest. And when they are tending to their eggs there, it might look from afar like they are sticking their heads in the sand.

But people persistently continue to claim that ostriches bury their heads in the sand when danger lurks, right? It is ironic that the whole ‘mechanics’ of this cognitive bias are founded on the shift where people are presented with new information that they don’t want to acknowledge, or incorporate into their belief system. So we still stubbornly talk about the ostrich effect.

Author

Picture of Maria Murumaa-Mengel
Maria Murumaa-Mengel, PhD

Maria Murumaa-Mengel (PhD in Media and Communication) is currently working as an Associate Professor of Media Studies at the Institute of Social Studies, University of Tartu, and as a member of the Baltic Engagement Centre for Combating Information Disorders. She is involved in research primarily focusing on young people’s use (and non-use, ‘going off the grid’) of social media, different literacies (e.g. digital, MIL, social media, porn), and various online risks (e.g. gendered online hate, online shaming, online child sexual abuse and grooming). Maria Murumaa-Mengel’s main strengths lie in teaching and supervising – she is the recipient of the 2020 Estonian National Award for the Teacher of the Year and has supervised several award-winning theses. In regard to digital media literacies, she is a firm believer in the ‘know thyself’ ground rule – it all starts with knowing how we as people process information in the increasingly mediatised and datafied world.

Original source: https://participationpool.eu/resource/ostrich-effect-a-cognitive-bias-that-makes-us-ignore-the-facts/

We like to think of ourselves as rational beings who, when presented with enough information and time for contemplation, can make good choices and judgements. Well, ha-ha, the joke’s on us, because we are not. In this series of short articles about our beautiful and flawed brains – more specifically about cognitive biases – we will look at five common cognitive biases that directly connect to media and information literacies (MILs). The foundation of MILs is knowing oneself and others, and what better time to remind ourselves of our biases than at the brink of elections! So hopefully next time we find ourselves in the middle of a heated online debate about political views or simply as targets of political campaigns, we will know better than to let our brains hijack our judgement through these cognitive shifts.

The Just World Hypothesis is our core belief that the world is fair, that good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people. According to the Just World Hypothesis bias, people generally believe that in any crime or injustice, the victim is to blame for what has happened to them, and, therefore, what happens to them is a deserving “reward.”

In the case of the Just World Hypothesis, despite its scientific-sounding name, there is a strong belief in the existence of some higher power or universal law (such as karma) that ensures a moral balance in actions and consequences. In this sense, it is strongly tied to conspiratorial thinking, as there, too, people seek clear patterns, actors are categorised into evil and righteous, and randomness is re-interpreted as cause-effect relationships.

The Just World Hypothesis ‘theory’ usually makes an appearance whenever there is a high-profile sexual violence or harassment case in the media. Comment sections are full of people who hint at or clearly state that the victims themselves somehow provoke and are in some way ‘deserving’ of what happens to them. Similar statements flood the communicative spaces when poverty, homelessness, sickness, accidents and natural disasters are described.

The electrifying science history

In the world of science, much of the research on the Just World Hypothesis can be traced back to the Milgram experiments, which sought to investigate how people would respond to orders from an authority figure, even if those orders went against their own moral beliefs. To cut a long story short, the participants of the experiments – people like you and me – were required to give electric shocks to others left and right, because they were told to do so, even when the zapped person (who was actually an actor) screamed in pain. Milgram’s research demonstrated that ordinary people could be induced to act in ways that were harmful to others when ordered to do so by an authority figure.

Milgram’s work inspired other scholars like Melvin Lerner to ask how exactly are people capable of doing so much evil and harm to each other. Just because someone orders us? How do we make peace with ourselves? How do we try to justify our own heinous acts? Or come up with explanations for the actions of others? Lerner also conducted a series of experiments in which people were sometimes given electric shock charges and studied the observers of this activity – how do people cope with a situation where they acknowledge someone’s suffering? Often, this is done through victim-blaming – the ‘punished’ ones must have somehow been at fault, foolish and weak, morally flawed.

Bias that helps us cope with hardships

The belief that the world is a fair place and people get what they deserve helps us get by in our everyday life. People find it hard to accept that the world is random, that bad things happen to good people, and that we have no control over many things. That’s why our brains ‘like the taste’ of the Just World Hypothesis, and according to some studies, it is essential for our mental health – it’s like an imaginary contract that guides us through life.

When thinking about where the understanding of a just world comes from, we don’t even have to look beyond fairy tales and Hollywood movies in terms of media texts. The monster always dies in the end, and the hero finds happiness. Or consider the foundational texts – religions are built on the idea that if you do good deeds, you will subsequently receive a deserved reward. Conversely, if you mistreat others day in and day out, you’ll go to hell. Folk theories and proverbs seal this logic, many languages and cultures have their own versions of ‘as you sow, so shall you reap.’ In Estonian, for example, we say: ‘How the village is to the dog, so the dog is to the village’.

Why are we talking about this in the context of media and information literaciesMedia and information literacies are the essential skills and forms of knowledge that individuals need to effectively navigate and critically engage with the vast amount of information and media they encounter in today’s digital age. Knowledge about the digital environments, the architecture of platforms, about social norms, etc. is increasingly important. But the foundation of media and information literacy is self-awareness and the ability to analyse others too – understanding how our brains and perceptions work. Because if we don’t, others can use these flaws against us, whether it be to get elected to a position of power or manipulate us into buying stuff we do not need, or make us scared and confused and thus, easily mouldable.

Author

Picture of Maria Murumaa-Mengel
Maria Murumaa-Mengel, PhD

Maria Murumaa-Mengel (PhD in Media and Communication) is currently working as an Associate Professor of Media Studies at the Institute of Social Studies, University of Tartu, and as a member of the Baltic Engagement Centre for Combating Information Disorders. She is involved in research primarily focusing on young people’s use (and non-use, ‘going off the grid’) of social media, different literacies (e.g. digital, MIL, social media, porn), and various online risks (e.g. gendered online hate, online shaming, online child sexual abuse and grooming). Maria Murumaa-Mengel’s main strengths lie in teaching and supervising – she is the recipient of the 2020 Estonian National Award for the Teacher of the Year and has supervised several award-winning theses. In regard to digital media literacies, she is a firm believer in the ‘know thyself’ ground rule – it all starts with knowing how we as people process information in the increasingly mediatised and datafied world.

Original source: https://participationpool.eu/resource/just-world-hypothesis-a-cognitive-bias-that-makes-us-believe-in-clear-cut-good-and-evil/

Useful materials

Professor Peter Gross (University of Tennesse, USA) gives a speech on the topic of disinformation and says that disinformation can affect everyone, for example, Russia‘s and China‘s disinformation can affect people even in USA.

We like to think of ourselves as rational beings who, when presented with enough information and time for contemplation, can make good choices and judgements. Well, ha-ha, the joke’s on us, because we are not. In this series of short articles about our beautiful and flawed brains – more specifically about cognitive biases – we will look at five common cognitive biases that directly connect to media and information literacies (MILs). The foundation of MILs is knowing oneself and others, and what better time to remind ourselves of our biases than at the brink of elections! So hopefully next time we find ourselves in the middle of a heated online debate about political views or simply as targets of political campaigns, we will know better than to let our brains hijack our judgement through these cognitive shifts.

Ever been a part of a group project where the whole kick-off meeting was spent arguing about THE BEST template for the final presentation or perhaps even discussing in-depth the size and font of the title? You may have fallen victim to the law of triviality or ‘bikeshedding’ – people tend to assign disproportionate weight to absolutely non-important, trivial questions and nuances and ignore or slip over the core of the issue.

Wait. What does it have to do with bike sheds?

The term ‘bikeshedding’ stems from an example the historian and public administration scholar Cyril Northcote Parkinson gave (already by the 1950s) to illustrate the traps we set ourselves in complex decision-making and organisational communication. In the story, a fictional committee is tasked with approving the plans for a nuclear power plant, a highly complex and technical project. However, the committee members spent the majority of their time and energy discussing and debating … the design and colour of the staff bicycle shed! The reason is very simple – the more straightforward and less complex a topic is, the easier it is for people to understand and have an opinion on it. This results in discussions becoming overly focused on the trivial at the expense of the important.

The law of triviality is familiar to many professions and fields – when a (larger) group of people start to hyperfocus on some tiny detail, the big picture becomes fuzzy and might end up as something else altogether. From IT to graphic design, from strategic planning to updating national school curricula, don’t even get me started on the climate crisis – there are bike sheds eeeeverywhere! In practical terms, recognising the bikeshedding effect can be essential in project management and decision-making processes, a good moderator or leader will not let the group get stuck on choosing the colour of the pens for the meeting.

Overanalysing the sportswear to avoid going to the gym

The law of triviality is also noticeable in our everyday lives, a much-practiced form of procrastination where we dwell on small decisions. Mulling over mayonnaise, ruminating about rakes, and contemplating corn cobs, instead of thinking long and hard about the big picture and huge decisions of our lives.

Sometimes, we spend more time compiling the day’s to-do list than the actual chores and duties. We give three hours to calligraphically painting the bullet point lists and might even add a bit of glitter and some stickers to it, only to find out that we only have a very limited time to get the things on our to-do list actually done. Boom! Bikeshedding.

Because our brains are drawn to smaller chunks and easier topics, we also often prefer these ‘superficial’ layers in our media habits too. We engage in bikeshedding when we are critiquing media (special effects vs societal implications) or conversing over social media trends (celebrity posts vs effect of celebrification).

A journalist or communication specialist can also fail at their job by narrowing the focus of the story or campaign to trivial and failing to grasp and tell the whole story. Discussions around media representation, such as the portrayal of gender, race, or sexuality in media, can sometimes become overly focused on individual casting choices or character design, rather than addressing systemic issues of representation and diversity. Media and information literacies are essential skills and knowledge that individuals need to effectively navigate and critically engage with the vast amount of information and media they encounter in today’s digital age. Knowledge about the digital environments, the architecture of platforms, social norms, media genres, etc., is increasingly important. But the foundation of media and information literacy is self-awareness and the ability to analyse others too – understanding how our brains and perceptions work. Otherwise, these flaws can be used to make us scared and confused and thus, easily mouldable.

 

Author

Picture of Maria Murumaa-Mengel
Maria Murumaa-Mengel, PhD

Maria Murumaa-Mengel (PhD in Media and Communication) is currently working as an Associate Professor of Media Studies at the Institute of Social Studies, University of Tartu, and as a member of the Baltic Engagement Centre for Combating Information Disorders. She is involved in research primarily focusing on young people’s use (and non-use, ‘going off the grid’) of social media, different literacies (e.g. digital, MIL, social media, porn), and various online risks (e.g. gendered online hate, online shaming, online child sexual abuse and grooming). Maria Murumaa-Mengel’s main strengths lie in teaching and supervising – she is the recipient of the 2020 Estonian National Award for the Teacher of the Year and has supervised several award-winning theses. In regard to digital media literacies, she is a firm believer in the ‘know thyself’ ground rule – it all starts with knowing how we as people process information in the increasingly mediatised and datafied world.

Original source: https://participationpool.eu/resource/bikeshedding-a-cognitive-bias-that-draws-our-attention-to-the-trivial/

We like to think of ourselves as rational beings who, when presented with enough information and time for contemplation, can make good choices and judgements. Well, ha-ha, the joke’s on us, because we are not. In this series of short articles about our beautiful and flawed brains – more specifically about cognitive biases – we will look at five common cognitive biases that directly connect to media and information literacies (MILs). The foundation of MILs is knowing oneself and others, and what better time to remind ourselves of our biases than at the brink of elections! So hopefully next time we find ourselves in the middle of a heated online debate about political views or simply as targets of political campaigns, we will know better than to let our brains hijack our judgement through these cognitive shifts. 

The Ikea effect is a cognitive bias in which we assign greater value to something we have been involved in creating, to which we have devoted our care and time. The name, of course, refers to the well-known furniture manufacturer, which has built its entire business model around this shift. Why sell medium-to-low-quality stuff to people and have them be grumpy about it when you can make them assemble the affordable furniture themselves and through that action make the customers happy and proud, sitting on their “self-made” wonky chairs. The effect has been known for a long time but the relatively recent Ikea label seems to have stuck – it is a widely recognised global brand, the science seems whimsical and the connection is somewhat surprising and thus memorable. 

Examples of this effect in action are plentiful: from various DIY products that require a lot of effort in assembly, painting, and tuning; to the sale of garden and agricultural products where customers are invited to pick their own produce and then pay for it; from why people who have renovated their own houses tend to anchor the selling price very high; to crowdsourcing or lending a helping hand in world cleanup efforts. Essentially, the strong emergence of this shift is even nice – people are seen as active co-creators rather than passive consumers. 

How much would you pay for this magnificent clump of wrinkled paper? 

Researchers have come up with clever yet simple studies to test this effect – one team of scientists got people to do origami and paid them for their effort, but then asked: ‘This origami crane you just made really belongs to us because we paid you for your time. But we’ll tell you what, we might be persuaded to sell it to you. Please write down the maximum amount of money that you would be willing to pay to take your origami creation home with you.’ The cunningness of their research design lies in the existence of another group – people who had not made anything with their hands but were similarly asked, ‘how much would you pay for these creations?’ The difference was vast, the makers truly believed in the quality and aesthetics of their crooked cranes, willing to pay five times as much as the ‘buyers’.  

The Ikea effect is a cognitive bias that makes us value effort – if something is too easy, it is not perceived as meaningful and valuable. We are creative creatures and need some challenges, a sense of accomplishment, figuring difficult things out, finding the easter egg! 

Participatory media kicks the Ikea effect into gear 

Why am I talking about this here? The foundation of media and information competence is self-awareness – understanding how our brains and perceptions work. Because if we don’t, others can use these flaws against us, whether it be to get elected to a position of power or manipulate us into buying stuff we do not need, or make us scared and confused and thus, easily mouldable. Here’s an example from the field of media literacies: If I have been involved in creating and strengthening a certain online group, I may view the broader impact of that group, the practices that spread within it, and its values through somewhat rose-tinted glasses (e.g., not noticing the destructiveness of that group).  

Or, for example, if I have provided ideas for writing a journalistic story, sources, or hidden perspectives, I would appreciate that publication and article more highly. Online platforms and social media often feature user-generated content, such as reviews, ratings, and comments. Users may assign greater credibility and value to content created by peers or fellow users because they feel a sense of participation in the platform. Contemporary participatory culture gives us ample opportunities to let the Ikea effect take off.

Author

Picture of Maria Murumaa-Mengel
Maria Murumaa-Mengel, PhD

Maria Murumaa-Mengel (PhD in Media and Communication) is currently working as an Associate Professor of Media Studies at the Institute of Social Studies, University of Tartu, and as a member of the Baltic Engagement Centre for Combating Information Disorders. She is involved in research primarily focusing on young people’s use (and non-use, ‘going off the grid’) of social media, different literacies (e.g. digital, MIL, social media, porn), and various online risks (e.g. gendered online hate, online shaming, online child sexual abuse and grooming). Maria Murumaa-Mengel’s main strengths lie in teaching and supervising – she is the recipient of the 2020 Estonian National Award for the Teacher of the Year and has supervised several award-winning theses. In regard to digital media literacies, she is a firm believer in the ‘know thyself’ ground rule – it all starts with knowing how we as people process information in the increasingly mediatised and datafied world.

Original source: https://participationpool.eu/resource/ikea-effect-a-cognitive-bias-born-from-labour-of-love/

We like to think of ourselves as rational beings who, when presented with enough information and time for contemplation, can make good choices and judgements. Well, ha-ha, the joke’s on us, because we are not. In this series of short articles about our beautiful and flawed brains – more specifically about cognitive biases – we will look at five common cognitive biases that directly connect to media and information literacies (MILs). The foundation of MILs is knowing oneself and others, and what better time to remind ourselves of our biases than at the brink of elections! So hopefully next time we find ourselves in the middle of a heated online debate about political views or simply as targets of political campaigns, we will know better than to let our brains hijack our judgement through these cognitive shifts. 

Sometimes, it’s as if something starts ‘following’ you everywhere. You constantly hear the same song, see red cars everywhere, notice others using a particular term incorrectly in their speech, and get followed by ads with similar content online. In this article, we will look at a cognitive bias called the frequency illusion that gives people the impression that something is happening more often than is actually the case, making a phenomenon appear more widespread than it truly is. 

Terrorists and furry creatures 

This cognitive bias is also called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon and dates back to 1994 when a user of an online forum described to the web community how they learned about the existence of the German terrorist group Baader-Meinhof and then, immediately afterwards, started seeing the name everywhere. Many others in the forum shared similar experiences, and from there, the knowledge and the name made their way into the academic sphere. 

Frequency illusion can be connected to a cuter metaphor – in the field of economics and marketing, we talk about the ‘meerkat effect’. Meerkats behave like vigilant guards. Pop! The head goes up, scanning the surroundings, noticing everything, observing with great attention. Such a tendency towards hypersensitivity, a pattern of perception biased by our recent awareness, makes us notice things frequently, especially those we’ve recently become aware of or concepts that have been actively used, etc. For example, you will certainly notice the meerkat effect operating here and there within a few days. Or see images of meerkats. Or read a book chapter where a pet meerkat makes an appearance.  

The Big Other is watching me! 

It is believed that the ‘mechanics’ of the frequency illusion are built on selective attention. We can actually focus on very few stimuli, and even fewer consistently over a longer period. Also, our brains are easy prey to confirmation bias, meaning we look for evidence that supports our existing beliefs or hypotheses. If, for example, you believe that you are being followed online by… uh… ferns? horses? weight loss? weightlifting? or related ads and texts, then part of this can be attributed to extreme vigilance on that topic, which triggers the frequency illusion. The frequently appearing ‘object’ must usually be somehow noteworthy or important to the individual, receiving special focus. Think also of the saying, ‘When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’ For instance, if I’ve just become aware of a fascinating sociological theory, I’ll interpret every damn social phenomenon through that framework. It fits everywhere! 

I hear you protesting: ‘No, Maria! My phone is definitely listening to me! It’s been on the news and everything!’ Has it, though? Social media platforms are profiling us, but not necessarily by listening in – they compile thousands of data points and predict what could interest people ‘like you’, what you and your personal social network do and click and engage with. So, when you talk to your friend about Borat-inspired swimwear and the next morning a hairy neon-stringed moustache-man is following you in the digital ads, it might be triggered by location tracking. Your phones hung out near each other last evening? OK, you must be connected! Perhaps the triggers were the friend’s online searches, or how they watched those twelve clips of Borat, combined with your habit of ordering random quirky stuff on a whim. But indeed, there is reason to be suspicious – although the platforms and device-providers are saying that they do not listen in, they have also previously denied microtargeting and meddling in politics. And very often it is simply the frequency illusion in action. 

Frequency illusion in action 

Back to the bias in the context of media competence: one very common way in which the susceptibility to this specific illusion is used against us is advertising. Why are advertisements bombarded at us everywhere? To make you aware of the brand, notice it more, to have it readily accessible in your brain. Get that Prime energy drink, everybody is drinking it these days! (No, actually, you probably should think twice about it). 

Why am I talking about this here? Media and information literacies are essential skills and knowledge that individuals need to effectively navigate and critically engage with the vast amount of information and media they encounter in today’s digital age. Knowledge about digital environments, the architecture of platforms, social norms, etc., is increasingly important. But the foundation of media and information literacy is self-awareness and the ability to analyse others, too – understanding how our brains and perceptions work. 

Author

Picture of Maria Murumaa-Mengel
Maria Murumaa-Mengel, PhD

Maria Murumaa-Mengel (PhD in Media and Communication) is currently working as an Associate Professor of Media Studies at the Institute of Social Studies, University of Tartu, and as a member of the Baltic Engagement Centre for Combating Information Disorders. She is involved in research primarily focusing on young people’s use (and non-use, ‘going off the grid’) of social media, different literacies (e.g. digital, MIL, social media, porn), and various online risks (e.g. gendered online hate, online shaming, online child sexual abuse and grooming). Maria Murumaa-Mengel’s main strengths lie in teaching and supervising – she is the recipient of the 2020 Estonian National Award for the Teacher of the Year and has supervised several award-winning theses. In regard to digital media literacies, she is a firm believer in the ‘know thyself’ ground rule – it all starts with knowing how we as people process information in the increasingly mediatised and datafied world.

Original source: https://participationpool.eu/resource/frequency-illusion-a-cognitive-bias-that-lurks-everywhere-and-follows-you-around/

We like to think of ourselves as rational beings who, when presented with enough information and time for contemplation, can make good choices and judgements. Well, ha-ha, the joke’s on us, because we are not. In this series of short articles about our beautiful and flawed brains – more specifically about cognitive biases – we will look at five common cognitive biases that directly connect to media and information literacies (MILs). The foundation of MILs is knowing oneself and others, and what better time to remind ourselves of our biases than at the brink of elections! So hopefully next time we find ourselves in the middle of a heated online debate about political views or simply as targets of political campaigns, we will know better than to let our brains hijack our judgement through these cognitive shifts.

Today’s know-thyself info nugget relates to the ostrich effect (also referred to as the ostrich problem) where people tend to ignore and avoid useful but uncomfortable or negatively perceived information. The reason for this is the good old cognitive dissonance avoidance, meaning that when there is a discord between two or more pieces of information or emotions, it creates so much discomfort in us that we must give in somewhere in our logic/beliefs/behaviour.

A simple example – imagine that you’ve gone and spent a lot of money. Maybe it was a tourist trip, retail therapy, or a wild Friday night out. Perhaps you can relate to that feeling when you don’t even want to look at your bank account? Ostriching. Alternatively, in terms of health behaviour – diabetics sometimes avoid measuring their blood sugar levels, people struggling with cholesterol levels ignore taking new measurements, and a lump in the breast might not immediately lead someone to a mammologist. Ostrich effect – hiding from the problem. The list goes on and on: denying climate change, racism, sexism, economic recession… In each of these cases, the ostrich effect may lead to a closed echo chamber or a filter bubble, where individuals only expose themselves to information that confirms their existing beliefs and opinions.

Flightless bird as a symbol of flight responses

It is essentially a flight response, an intended or realised escape from the present situation. Stress situations trigger different coping strategies, usually falling into the response framework of fight-flight (or freeze). Fighting or fleeing from a perceived threat or attack are two significant categories of biobehavioural reactions to stressorsFight reactions and strategies are based on confronting danger, closely related to problem-solving and support-seeking. Flight reactions essentially function as running away from the stressor, an intended or realised escape from the present situation.

Flight response can manifest in our media usage patterns, as we sometimes don’t want to look at the news at all when we are afraid. Media avoidance can kick in, for example, when waiting and fearing for election results; being anxious about what the night has brought on the battlefield; or anticipating the new feats of a new virus. In fact, there is a whole direction in media studies that focuses on media avoidance practices. People may avoid certain genres, often including advertisements; journalism or media in general; specific topics, and so on. When we think about fundamental questions like slow living (The Slow Movement) or JOMO (joy of missing out), we may not, at a glance, want to directly associate it with ostriching. But avoiding a specific topic is definitely part of it. For example, COVID-19 news became an avoidance object for many – can’t be bothered, can’t keep up, don’t want to, constant updates, confusion, etc. ‘I’d rather not follow it at all!’ The invasion of Ukraine by Russia is another topic that can be noticed in media-avoidance practices. Here, one can ask where the line is drawn between justified and understandable self-regulation and taking care of one’s mental health and deliberately cutting oneself off from the essential shared information space of society. Interestingly, some cultural studies have pointed out that ostrich behaviour is more common in individualistic cultures.

Smear campaign against ostriches

By the way, the term ‘ostrich effect’ is complete slander! If I were an ostrich, I would demand justice and fact-based labelling of cognitive biases! Ostriches don’t bury their heads in the sand when danger is present. Often, they freeze, lowering their heads and bodies to attract less attention. It is believed that the myth of ostriches burying their heads in the sand arose because ostriches lay their eggs in a hole dug in the ground, not in a nest. And when they are tending to their eggs there, it might look from afar like they are sticking their heads in the sand.

But people persistently continue to claim that ostriches bury their heads in the sand when danger lurks, right? It is ironic that the whole ‘mechanics’ of this cognitive bias are founded on the shift where people are presented with new information that they don’t want to acknowledge, or incorporate into their belief system. So we still stubbornly talk about the ostrich effect.

Author

Picture of Maria Murumaa-Mengel
Maria Murumaa-Mengel, PhD

Maria Murumaa-Mengel (PhD in Media and Communication) is currently working as an Associate Professor of Media Studies at the Institute of Social Studies, University of Tartu, and as a member of the Baltic Engagement Centre for Combating Information Disorders. She is involved in research primarily focusing on young people’s use (and non-use, ‘going off the grid’) of social media, different literacies (e.g. digital, MIL, social media, porn), and various online risks (e.g. gendered online hate, online shaming, online child sexual abuse and grooming). Maria Murumaa-Mengel’s main strengths lie in teaching and supervising – she is the recipient of the 2020 Estonian National Award for the Teacher of the Year and has supervised several award-winning theses. In regard to digital media literacies, she is a firm believer in the ‘know thyself’ ground rule – it all starts with knowing how we as people process information in the increasingly mediatised and datafied world.

Original source: https://participationpool.eu/resource/ostrich-effect-a-cognitive-bias-that-makes-us-ignore-the-facts/

We like to think of ourselves as rational beings who, when presented with enough information and time for contemplation, can make good choices and judgements. Well, ha-ha, the joke’s on us, because we are not. In this series of short articles about our beautiful and flawed brains – more specifically about cognitive biases – we will look at five common cognitive biases that directly connect to media and information literacies (MILs). The foundation of MILs is knowing oneself and others, and what better time to remind ourselves of our biases than at the brink of elections! So hopefully next time we find ourselves in the middle of a heated online debate about political views or simply as targets of political campaigns, we will know better than to let our brains hijack our judgement through these cognitive shifts.

The Just World Hypothesis is our core belief that the world is fair, that good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people. According to the Just World Hypothesis bias, people generally believe that in any crime or injustice, the victim is to blame for what has happened to them, and, therefore, what happens to them is a deserving “reward.”

In the case of the Just World Hypothesis, despite its scientific-sounding name, there is a strong belief in the existence of some higher power or universal law (such as karma) that ensures a moral balance in actions and consequences. In this sense, it is strongly tied to conspiratorial thinking, as there, too, people seek clear patterns, actors are categorised into evil and righteous, and randomness is re-interpreted as cause-effect relationships.

The Just World Hypothesis ‘theory’ usually makes an appearance whenever there is a high-profile sexual violence or harassment case in the media. Comment sections are full of people who hint at or clearly state that the victims themselves somehow provoke and are in some way ‘deserving’ of what happens to them. Similar statements flood the communicative spaces when poverty, homelessness, sickness, accidents and natural disasters are described.

The electrifying science history

In the world of science, much of the research on the Just World Hypothesis can be traced back to the Milgram experiments, which sought to investigate how people would respond to orders from an authority figure, even if those orders went against their own moral beliefs. To cut a long story short, the participants of the experiments – people like you and me – were required to give electric shocks to others left and right, because they were told to do so, even when the zapped person (who was actually an actor) screamed in pain. Milgram’s research demonstrated that ordinary people could be induced to act in ways that were harmful to others when ordered to do so by an authority figure.

Milgram’s work inspired other scholars like Melvin Lerner to ask how exactly are people capable of doing so much evil and harm to each other. Just because someone orders us? How do we make peace with ourselves? How do we try to justify our own heinous acts? Or come up with explanations for the actions of others? Lerner also conducted a series of experiments in which people were sometimes given electric shock charges and studied the observers of this activity – how do people cope with a situation where they acknowledge someone’s suffering? Often, this is done through victim-blaming – the ‘punished’ ones must have somehow been at fault, foolish and weak, morally flawed.

Bias that helps us cope with hardships

The belief that the world is a fair place and people get what they deserve helps us get by in our everyday life. People find it hard to accept that the world is random, that bad things happen to good people, and that we have no control over many things. That’s why our brains ‘like the taste’ of the Just World Hypothesis, and according to some studies, it is essential for our mental health – it’s like an imaginary contract that guides us through life.

When thinking about where the understanding of a just world comes from, we don’t even have to look beyond fairy tales and Hollywood movies in terms of media texts. The monster always dies in the end, and the hero finds happiness. Or consider the foundational texts – religions are built on the idea that if you do good deeds, you will subsequently receive a deserved reward. Conversely, if you mistreat others day in and day out, you’ll go to hell. Folk theories and proverbs seal this logic, many languages and cultures have their own versions of ‘as you sow, so shall you reap.’ In Estonian, for example, we say: ‘How the village is to the dog, so the dog is to the village’.

Why are we talking about this in the context of media and information literaciesMedia and information literacies are the essential skills and forms of knowledge that individuals need to effectively navigate and critically engage with the vast amount of information and media they encounter in today’s digital age. Knowledge about the digital environments, the architecture of platforms, about social norms, etc. is increasingly important. But the foundation of media and information literacy is self-awareness and the ability to analyse others too – understanding how our brains and perceptions work. Because if we don’t, others can use these flaws against us, whether it be to get elected to a position of power or manipulate us into buying stuff we do not need, or make us scared and confused and thus, easily mouldable.

Author

Picture of Maria Murumaa-Mengel
Maria Murumaa-Mengel, PhD

Maria Murumaa-Mengel (PhD in Media and Communication) is currently working as an Associate Professor of Media Studies at the Institute of Social Studies, University of Tartu, and as a member of the Baltic Engagement Centre for Combating Information Disorders. She is involved in research primarily focusing on young people’s use (and non-use, ‘going off the grid’) of social media, different literacies (e.g. digital, MIL, social media, porn), and various online risks (e.g. gendered online hate, online shaming, online child sexual abuse and grooming). Maria Murumaa-Mengel’s main strengths lie in teaching and supervising – she is the recipient of the 2020 Estonian National Award for the Teacher of the Year and has supervised several award-winning theses. In regard to digital media literacies, she is a firm believer in the ‘know thyself’ ground rule – it all starts with knowing how we as people process information in the increasingly mediatised and datafied world.

Original source: https://participationpool.eu/resource/just-world-hypothesis-a-cognitive-bias-that-makes-us-believe-in-clear-cut-good-and-evil/

Partners