Monday, December 20, 2010
The study was based on psychological theory that opposes two different types of response to information presented through the medium of fiction. A reader or viewer may “incorporate” incoming information from a fictional source, such that it is tagged as true and used as a scaffold for new incoming information and a link to information stored in long-term memory, or “compartmentalize” it, such that it is not tagged as true nor entered into the bank of one’s world knowledge (Gerrig & Prentice, 1991). This theory further proposes that information presented in a fictional context may seem, nevertheless, to be context-free; and such information should be more readily incorporated, and less readily compartmentalized, a claim that has been supported empirically (Gerrig & Prentice, 1991). Barriga et al had thus expected to find a main effect for the centrality/periphery factor, in which incorrect information presented peripherally to the plot would be less likely to be compartmentalized and labeled as false, a pattern that only the males in the study demonstrated. The authors note that their result may be attributable to gender differences in interest in science, confidence in scientific ability, and attitudes toward science – factors not accounted for by their use of the general science knowledge control. The authors note, “The most intriguing result, and one worthy of exploration, is that people who are not usually attuned to science may be less likely to be influenced by faulty science, and more able to detect mistakes, when they are focused on other elements of the plot and consider the science secondary” (p. 19).
Another intriguing result, however, and one not directly addressed by the authors, is that, averaging across all viewers, out of a possible eight incorrect scientific “facts” that could have been detected, only a grand mean of about 2.75 (judging by the figure on p. 16) were detected. Doesn’t this suggest that it’s likely that most of us walk out of the cinema having subconsciously filed away as “true” 5 of the 8 incorrect scientific facts to which we were exposed? A sobering statistic to reflect upon...
Barriga, C. A., Shapiro, M. A., & Fernandez, M. L. (2010). Science information in fictional movies: Effects of context and gender. Science Communication, 32, 3-24.