It is vital for our own health that we consume a ‘balanced media diet’. The news diet metaphor rings true the more we apply it. Catchy headlines act as addictive sugars, confirmatory articles mirror comfort food, and opposing viewpoints are like the detoxifying kale smoothie that is so easy to push away.
An unbalanced consumption of media leaves the fringes of society vulnerable at the best of times. At the worst of times, it’s radicalising, polarising, and a threat to a mature civilisation. In Australia now, where vaccine rates and compliance of health measures determine our nation’s freedom, the rampant perseverance of misinformation related to COVID-19 is suffocating our nation. Parallel to Australia’s COVID pandemic, lies a silent but deadly media ‘infodemic’.
Confirmation bias, or comfort media, is the tendency to only consume media that re-affirms the prior beliefs of an individual. Pertinent to Australia’s inoculation efforts, confirmation bias fuels anti-vaccinators who selectively pick the information they consume.
Such cherry-picking confirms individuals’ beliefs about vaccine efficacy and perpetuates their hesitancy, regardless of the credibility of sources used. Researchers writing for the reputable ‘Psychological Bulletin’ link the extent to which confirmation bias can affect an individual to a range of factors. A person’s motivation, commitment, and enduring values towards certain positions serve to encourage their use of confirmation bias.
Now, much like a vegetarian avoids eating meat, people tend to reduce conflict in their minds and lives to create harmony. Cognitive dissonance is the psychological experience of perceiving contradictory information. The disharmony caused by contradiction in the mind motivates people to reduce the friction in the most effortless way.
When an individual has a belief about vaccines, it is simplest to control their information sources in order to retain a cognitive harmony between belief and behaviour. Researchers at the World Health Organisation reported that up to 28.8% of COVID related information involves misinformation about the virus and vaccines. This statistic shows how easy it can be to engage in confirmation bias in order to reduce cognitive dissonance, a behavioural pattern that is allowing misinformation to persevere.
Just as important as a sense of harmony within the mind, is a sense of belongingness within niches of society. Homophily is another psychological principle in which individuals tend to seek contact from people similar to them, compared to those who are dissimilar. As such, individuals tend to receive information around them from networks of people who are likely to hold the same beliefs.
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Homophily represents a biological need for people to fit in within a social group. This need to fit in radicalises and polarises people, who leverage their beliefs in order to maintain status within a group. This radicalisation of beliefs causes people to ignore counter arguments from sources that don’t identify within the same group as them.
Essentially, when a belief characterises membership of a group, it becomes a weapon of warfare, resistant to counterargument. In COVID times, ideologies predominantly about a mistrust of governments binds social groups together, providing weaponry resistant to scientific research and factual information. Again, this shows how detrimental a lack of balance in your media diet can be.
With the food metaphor persisting, the question is posed; what is a healthy diet? Buzzwords like ‘fat and ‘calorie’ don’t directly and solely influence the foods we choose in our diets. Parallel to this, a barrage of contradictory news and media from multiple sources can’t logically insight the actions of Australians. Considering this, just as important as consuming a range of media, is digesting those sources with critical evaluation. We must assess the validity of statistics used, the reliability of the sources, and the motives of the publication. I mean, why am I, the author, writing this article?
The reality is, no healthy diet exists made up only of fast food and sugar. We need fruit, vegetables, and the occasional kale smoothie. When our diet is balanced, the odd chocolate bar isn’t an issue… ‘Everything in moderation’.
Moreover, we can’t just be spoon fed anymore. We need to think critically about our diet and the media we consume and make our own decisions. We are no longer dependent children. I think it’s about time we grew up and embraced that you are what you eat.