Psychology in the news

Subject: Media
Type: Synthesis Essay
Pages: 5
Word count: 1375
Topics: News, Social Media, Social Psychology
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Introduction of Psychology in the News

Although news in different media including magazine articles, newspaper articles, advertisements, commercials, radio broadcasts, or television news stories has a long history, the application of psychological theories in persuasion did not start until the twentieth century. The information presented in these media represent a psychological phenomenon as they are primarily presented to attract an audience than to provide fully accurate information. The rationale for these tendency can be attributed to the fact that psychology provides the media outlets with an opportunity to understand and exploit the cognitive and behavioural process through which consumer makes a purchase decision. These theories include motivation, emotion, attitude formation, attention and decision making. To analyse the concept of psychology in the news, this paper utilises a number of news articles, commercials and advertisements to better exhibit this concept.

Social Psychology

The concept of social influence is a segment of social psychology that is used in presentation of news today to influence people in a certain direction. On the major strategies used to influence people to make purchase decisions is feigning scarcity. This strategy is primarily used in commercials and advertisements to give the consumers the impression that something is limited or has limited resources to meet the needs of the people, which works by increasing the demand. Feigned scarcity is a manipulative strategy used in the persuasion of buyers as in the case of the marketing of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop and a TV ad for Merck’s Keytruda advertising a cancer treatment.

Gwyneth Paltrow was recently accused of making false health claims in order to promote the marketing of website, Goop that give wellness recommendations through cutting edge innovation in health promotion. Such product recommendations as the use of stickers for health promotion or jade eggs for the recharge purposes has been caught with major criticism of false information. In the context of appealing to the psychological concept of social influence by feigning scarcity is presenting the raw goat milk cleanses, luxury crystal therapy and vagina steaming therapies in Goop which are presented as rare, cutting-edge innovations. However, they rely on the appeal and popularity of alternative approaches to health to drive mass consumers to the site.

Shim (2015) explores the psychological trend used in the promotion of alternative medication by positing that alternative medicine is attracting massive following in the recent times, that even modern medicine is adopting some alternative forms of medicine. Due to the non-effectiveness of modern medication, as well as the side effects of medication for chronic illnesses, evidence shows that the effectiveness of alternative medicine has changed the way medicine is practices and perceived. There is a high expectation that alternative medicine provides the efficiency not offered by modern medication. In the light of this information, Goop appeals to the popularity of the field they are operating to use false information in persuading people that their alternative health recommendations are based on is cutting-edge innovation.

Merck’s Keytruda advertisement of a cancer treatment also uses the concept of social psychology by feigning the scarcity in cancer medication. Recently, the company faced major criticism and even lawsuits for presenting reassuring images of smiling, healthy patients hugging their children. The patients were not struggling to walk or fighting for breath like the typical cancer patients. The commercial was deemed false and misleading as it featured actors and promised to give cancer patients a cancer at longer lives. The patients felt that the people in the commercial were not a presentation of the cancer patients, and had nothing in common. Recently through, Merck’s Keytruda was advertised with a real patient in order to quell the uproar. As Gupta (2013) notes, when something is perceived to be scarce, people tend to want it more, and especially when it promises outstanding results as in the case of Keytruda.

Motivation and Emotions

The role of emotions in the promotion of motivation to make purchase decisions can be explained from the perspective of Charles Darwin’s theory which posits that emotions have adaptive values. Emotions are subjective, complex experiences that are characterised by behavioural and biological changes in response to behavioural and psychological changes. According to Darwin’s theory, the changes in behaviour following a traumatic experience is an important process that enhances an individual’s opportunity for survival.

The psychology of emotions and motivation is manipulated in McDonald in its most recent British TV advert that shows a bereaved boy grieving the loss of his father, and they give him a burger. The ad received massive criticism for underscoring the importance of the boy’s grieving process, by demonstrating that his emotions are not important as a burger in the process of surviving loss. The ‘upsetting’ bereavement ad ignored that the fact teenagers too have a special process of grieving like adults, and they need to go through the process of healing and acceptance so that they can overcome the traumatic experiences (Schuurman & Lindholm, 2002). According to the Schuurman and Lindholm (2002), teens experience a wide range of emotions especially when grieving the loss of an important person in their lives such as a parent, and they should be allowed to through the natural process of mourning. This insight is contrary to McDonald’s idea of replacing the emotional burden of a grieving boy with a burger.

The appeal to the emotions of the buyers in motivational marketing can also be exemplified in the recent marketing of Dove Body Lotion/Real Beauty which has been criticised of promoting racism. The advertisement shows a black woman transition into a white woman after using the Dove body lotion. The transformation in colour is dumped real beauty, which has evoked massive controversy and uproar especially from the black women. The racist advert on Facebook was purposely aimed at appealing to the emotions of the women that using the lotion advertised by Dove would transform them into real beauties, which according to the brand is whitening of the skin colour. The misleading advertisement failed to capture the emotions of the buyers in the expected way and resulting in a backlash. Peck, et al. (2011) demonstrates that racism has become a commercialised phenomenon especially in marketing as espoused in the marketing of video games in marketing magazines. Dove may have wanted to achieve the same marketing outcomes as video games but missed the mark and achieved the reverse outcome.

Intelligence and Language

The psychological concept of intelligence and language implies the ability of an individual to understand, perceive, express and control the emotions of others using an understanding of the audience’s personality traits such as extroversion and empathy. In psychology, emotional intelligence is used to appeal to the emotions of the audience by presenting the information according to the perspective that is most likely to resonate with them. For instance, the psychological of emotional intelligence was currently applied in the dissemination of fake news that was aimed at harming the Qatar relationship with the U.S. The false information was tailored to complicate the relationship between Qatar and its neighbours by ruining its reputation. The news release titled “UAE orchestrated hacking of Qatari government sites, sparking regional upheaval, according to U.S. intelligence officials” was published in the Washington Post and was aimed at capturing the emotions of the people, by using the information about their personalities to regulate them.

According to Brader (2005), emotional intelligence is used by politicians to influence the people’s point of view, including influencing the manner in which the people vote. When politicians understand the type of information that would be highly appealing to the people, they will use the information to influence the people emotionally, even when such information is false and misleading, like in the case of the presented article about Qatar on the Washington post.

The analysis of these advertisements demonstrate that psychological concepts are very key to the persuasion of people, whether to influence their political point of view, or to motivate and influence them to make a specific purchase decision. While some emotional appeals in advertisements have worked effectively, using false information for purposely of misleading people into adopting a product has led to criticism and public mistrust, thereby driving the public away from the brand. This analysis provides essential insights into the application of psychology in the news, by ensuring that the persuasion approaches used to not offend or misled people, as that can be counterproductive.

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  1. Brader, T. (2005). Striking a responsive chord: How political ads motivate and persuade voters by appealing to emotions. American Journal of Political Science, 49(2), 388-405.
  2. Gupta, S. (2013). The psychological effects of perceived scarcity on consumers’ buying behavior. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Nebraska.
  3. Peck, B. M., Ketchum, P. R., & Embrick, D. G. (2011). Racism and sexism in the gaming world: Reinforcing or changing stereotypes in computer games?. Journal of Media and Communication Studies, 3(6), 212.
  4. Schuurman, D., & Lindholm, A. B. (2002). Teens and grief. The Prevention Researcher, 9(2), 1.
  5. Shim, J. M. (2015). The influence of social context on the treatment outcomes of complementary and alternative medicine: the case of acupuncture and herbal medicine in Japan and the US. Globalization and health, 11(1), 17.
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