Opinion: Our conditioned response to scandal

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Graphic by Spencer Light | The Broadside (Contact: slight@cocc.edu)

By Connor Davenport | The Broadside (Contact: cdavenport@cocc.edu)

In a world of stories being called “fake news,” there is one thing that the news creates, and it’s hard to avoid. It’s conditioning us with a false sense of information with the world around us. Not primarily because of what they are providing, but by how they are presenting it.

Think of your first puppy and how excited you were to hold such a fragile, fluffy entity in your hands. Just its existence in the world was enough to leave happy tears in the corners of your eyes. Despite the fact that your dog has potentially grown up to rip apart your favorite shoe or devour any traces of ham left on top the kitchen counter, we all had to go through one important part of raising our dogs, and that’s potty training.

As much as we want to have our dogs understand us, the concept of forcing your dog to go outside can only be achieved through one means: classical conditioning.

The psychological phenomenon of displaying a consequence to a specific action provides dogs with the eventual understanding that the floor is not a bathroom. As a consistent reaction to an event occurs overtime, the dog’s initial reaction to the bathroom problem changes.

The dog wets the carpet, we get mad at the dog, the dog adapts to the response. Classical conditioning in this instance is a great concept applicable to learning new skills, but what if a similar concept actually hindered our own ability to obtain information?

Our exposure to news is nothing short of chopped up soundbites, bolded headlines, and constant streaming of “breaking stories.” Regardless of what cable news network we follow, these stories are sensationalized.

In a double-sided conundrum, recent outpours of sexual harassment allegations have flooded news on all corners of the media. From actors to elected officials, we’re currently facing one of the most important times to pay attention to sexual abuse.

The amount of screentime these events, such as the incident with Harvey Weinstein, hold keep pundits talking for weeks, but not in a manner of “why,” but rather “what.”

Treating crime as a riveting scandal reveals a dark facet of our society; crime goes largely unnoticed by mainstream media until high-standing individuals commit it.

This type of discussion only focuses on facilitating debate with whether or not the victim is actually telling the truth, instead of asking why these allegations occur so frequently to begin with.  

Only a conditioned response has us accept it as a dramatic reality. This does not mean that the news shouldn’t hold a spotlight on important events, but our understanding and conditioning of the information makes many adapt to it in a manner that, according to psychologist Anita Gadhia-Smith, is giving way to a “new sense of anxiety…vulnerability and powerlessness”.

How do we solve sexual harassment when we become accustomed to the idea that we’re supposed to see it as a scandal rather than a crisis? How do we pass the proper legislation to prevent murder when we grow accustomed to the idea that it has become nothing more than a dramatic talking point in our society? Where do we set the line between too much exposure to information and not enough exposure to information so we properly react to the news in order to create change?

The way we present the news hinders our capacity to understand the actual meaning of the information, and therefore mutes our ability to correct the issue.

In no way does this mean that we should censor our news, but the news needs to be framed in way that focuses on the original source of the dilemma rather than the output of tragedy.

Instead of treating crisis as a talking head for drama, we should use these events to create real change and encourage deep discussion. It’s understandable that sometimes we want to present the news in a way that is both entertaining and insightful, but these types of tragedies have so much potential to make productive conversation on the subjects, and instead the time is used to talk about the inevitable fallout and demise of the accused.

Once we begin to change how we display our information, then become conditioned to this news, we then react to the discussion being facilitated rather than the discussion of the crisis itself with no mention of how we can change.

Just like how you properly condition your puppy by handing him a treat when he sits rather than yelling at him every time he takes one, it’s time the news focuses on conditioning us with how the information they give us can be prevented and changed, rather than giving us the information with nothing more than a daily dose of fear, anxiety, and scandal. ■



 

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