Thursday, February 08, 2007

Toddler Story Packs Powerfully Sad Media Effect

Today we finish data collection for a study investigating (the cognitive processes behind) how television colors your perception of social reality. I say this to illustrate that I study how the media make you think it is a "mean world," to use a term popular in the literature.

I just finished reading an absolutely horrific story on I'd link directly to the story, but that would mean I would have to go back and look at the page.

And I cannot.

The summary is that Pittsburgh police allege that a man left his 2-year-old toddler outside to die in the cold.

That's extremely sad.

But then I read the next part. The part about little footprints around the body, suggesting the toddler got up and wandered a bit before succumbing to the cold.

And then I lost it. I couldn't even look at the page.

If you don't have kids, you won't really get it. But if you have kids, you will understand how a story such as this reaches right into the core of your being and shakes something primeval. A whole new chamber opens in your heart when you have kids, so to speak.

I was raised a male in America, so I can pretty much witness any atrocity and not shed a tear. It's an adaptive thing, really. But if you start telling me a story about someone hurting kids -- and that almost always comes from the media -- I cannot take it. It's the worst kind of torture. You cannot hear that and not think of your own children.

The funny thing, to me, is that my knee-jerk reflex to this story is to want to go get my kids out of school and hug them. Because it's a sick *$&#ing world. And for that moment, I just want to know that they're safe.

Percentage-wise, it's a pretty safe world. But the fact that even one person might have specifically tried to freeze their kid makes for a pretty twisted world.

Sure, my kids have driven me to the brink of insanity. They can push every button that I have. But I cannot imagine ever wanting to seriously hurt any of them even for a moment.

Emotion drove me to click on the link to that story, and stronger emotion drove me to click away from it. That's why I study media psychology. But I sure wish I hadn't read that story.

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