For my Digital and Media Literacy class this semester, we’ve been tasked to watch weekly videos from the CrashCourse Youtube channel. It’s an education channel started by John and Hank Green in December 2011. Crash Course was one of the hundred initial channels funded by YouTube’s $100 million original channel initiative and has been awarded the Shorty Award for Best in Education. Their motto is, “At Crash Course, we believe that high quality educational videos should be available to everyone for free!” For this week’s video summary, we watched Media & the Mind, the fourth video in their media literacy course.
For every conscious reaction and response you have to media, your brain is also subconsciously reacting and responding. Our brains are pretty good at automating routine stuff to reduce the cognitive load. The brain relies on schema to do this; schema is a thought pattern: a way the brain understands a task, the desired outcomes of the task, and the strategy for getting there. For example, the brain has a schema for tying your shoe: you have to tie your shoe so it stays tight on your foot and doesn’t fall off or trip you, so you have to make a knot using bunny ears.
The brain has schema for consuming media. However, those schemas aren’t the best. Because humans have an inherent desire to connect the dots and see the whole picture instead of its parts, that makes us vulnerable to misinformation. Same with false memories; sometimes if you can’t exactly remember the details of an event, the brain just fills in the blanks with something plausible. It’s a lot easier to create a memory than to change one, which is why fake news prevails. Confirmation bias also plays into this.
Social media presents an obstacle: most platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, are built to reward confirmation bias. Those companies want you in their apps as long as possible, so their algorithms are tuned to keep showing you stuff you like. Another obstacle is that occasionally when we’re busy or not really that concerned with hunting down the right answer, we’ll accept whatever answer’s laid out in front of us, called information-satisficing.
The problem is, when something is complex or difficult to understand and the media turns it into a familiar narrative for us, we welcome it with wide, open arms – even if it’s false. To sum up, your brain on media is prone to taking shortcuts and filling in the blanks of a story whenever, and however, it can. What’s worse, publishers, advertisers, and tech companies know all of these tricks. They use them against us all the time to hold (or steal) our attention.
It’s not always easy to spot our brain’s thought patterns at work, let alone break them. That’s where strong critical thinking skills come in, and the shared responsibility of doing this work together, as a society. The more we acknowledge our biases and thought patterns, the better we get at confronting them to find the truth.
Until next week,