News Media Subtly Influences Attitudes about Gender Differences

  on January 21, 2014

For people who say they never believe what they read in the newspapers,a Yale researcher found the reality is something different. In twostudies published in the journal Psychological Science, Yale Ph.D.candidate Victoria Brescoll and Marianne LaFrance, a professor ofpsychology at Yale, found that political ideology influences how thepopular press reports research findings. The second study showed thatreaders beliefs and attitudes are affected by what they read in thenewspaper.

"The fact that politics may influence sciencereporting is somewhat unsettling," Brescoll and LaFrance said. "More tothe point, when people read articles about science, they trust theinformation more precisely because they are reading about science."

The goal of the first study was to determine hownewspapers report scientific studies about differences based on gender-- specifically whether they say the finding supports the idea that menand women are biologically different, or whether they say thedifference is due to social experience.

LaFrance and Brescoll looked at a representativesample of the top 50 newspapers in the country, based on circulation,for articles reporting a scientific finding of a difference inresponses between men and women. They then assessed how each newspaperreported the cause of the difference. Their measures included thenewspaper's political stance, based on who they endorsed inpresidential elections, and on their attitudes toward gender, based ontheir position on admitting women to military institutes. According tothe study, newspapers that tended to be more politically conservativealso tended to report a biological basis for differences between menand women.

In the second study the researchers draftedfictional news stories about gender differences on a gender neutraltopic, identifying plants. Some of the stories said men or women werebetter at identifying plants because of their natural abilities, whileothers said men or women were more skilled at identifying plantsbecause of how they were socialized. The readers tended to believewhatever bias was represented in the fictional news story.

"What this told us is that when people readnewspaper explanations for sex differences, they may accept theexplanations as scientifically true rather than understand theexplanations provided by the newspaper stem from its political stance,"LaFrance said.

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Source: Science Daily LLC

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January 21, 2014
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