The impact of mass media on our brains

In a recent post I wrote about “What happens in our brain when we are talking to someone?” and I used a TED post and TED talk from Uri Hasson as reference. This time, I would like to re-use it and put under the spotlight not only the communication between our brains but also the potential impact of mass media in our brains.

How do you think mass media can influence and impact our brains? From Pexels.

Broadly speaking, Uri’s findings support the idea that when we engage in a conversation and we are on the same page with the other person, then our brain rhythms become in sync and share similar brain activity patterns throughout the conversation (regardless of being the speaker or the listener). But this only happens with the requirement that we need to have the same “common ground” with the other person. To put it in other words, our ability to communicate relies on our ability to have common ground. But how does that happen and how we can relate this with the huge impact that mass media has in our brains and our lives?

Well, I’m sure you’ve experienced at some point in your life how people misunderstand something you’ve just said and/or understand the exact same story in very different ways. You just need to turn on the TV, watch TV series and shows or movies, or just talk to your friends or colleagues. You’ll find miss-communication everywhere. Human communication is not perfect after all. To understand what happens in such cases, Uri and colleagues conducted the following experiment that I’m going to quote:

“We used the J.D. Salinger story “Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes,” in which a husband loses track of his wife in the middle of a party. The man ends up calling his best friend, asking, “Did you see my wife?” We told half of the participants in our study that the wife was having an affair with the best friend; with the other half, they said the wife was loyal and the husband was very jealous”.

What do they found?

“Interestingly, this one sentence that we told subjects before the story started was enough to make the brain responses of all the people who believed the wife was having an affair to be very similar in the same high-order areas that represent the narrative of the story and to be different from the group who thought her husband was unjustifiably jealous”.

What are the implications of this finding?

“If one sentence was enough to make a person’s brain similar to people who had the same belief (in this case, the wife is unfaithful) and different from people who held a different belief the husband is paranoid), imagine how this effect might be amplified in real life. As our experiments show, good communication depends on speakers and listeners possessing common ground. Today, too many of us live in echo chambers where we’re exposed to the same perspective day after day. We should all be concerned as a society if we lose our common ground and lose the ability to communicate effectively and share our views with people who are different than us”.

On my personal account, I would like to emphasize here the potential impact that this finding might have beyond the lab, especially in the age of mass media that we live in. Suppose we all read different news sources and we don’t share our ideas with people who think different than us. Then we’ll lose our common ground and we’ll not be able to talk to each other. We don’t want that as a society. Or imagine everyone reading the same news and sources. In this case, we’ll end up thinking the same and yes, we’ll be able to communicate, but that is not either what we want.

From my perspective, the good way to go would be reading all kind of news sources with different perspectives and decide which one is more coherent and similar to what you think, and do not the same sources over and over. Also, we should dialogue more and more with people that think like us and even more with people that we have fewer things in common and think differently than us. I think this might be the key point to protect us from mass media, have our own criteria to think, try to come to a mutual understanding with people different than us, and be more effective in communicating to each other that may result to better coupling of our brains as a society.

What are your thoughts about it?


Feature image from Pexels – CC0.

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