How consuming too many “frames” can lead to a nation of “smart idiots”: The hazard of believing in misinformation

In his recent article, The Republican Brain: Why Even Educated Conservatives Deny Science — and Reality, Chris Mooney describes the differences in beliefs held between Conservatives and Liberals on the issue of global warming.  He also touches on other tea-party favorites, such as the belief that President Barrack Obama was not born in the United States, and that he is a secret Muslim.  The outright misinformation campaign being waged by Fox news and other corporately controlled media outlets is leading to what Chris Moody calls the “smart idiots” effect.

What he found by looking at various studies is the paradox that more education among conservatives leads to even further belief in the misinformation propagated by radical right wing conservatives in this country. With respect to the growing resistance to accept what climate scientists have confirmed, (that the planet is warming due to human activity of burning more and more fossil fuels), “Again and again, Republicans or conservatives who say they know more about the topic, or are more educated, are shown to be more in denial, and often more sure of themselves as well- and are confident they don’t need any more information on the issue.”

In an attempt to describe what accounts for the “smart idiot” effect, Chris Mooney had this to say, “For one thing, well-informed or well-educated conservatives probably consume more conservative news and opinion, such as by watching Fox News. Thus, they are more likely to know what they’re supposed to think about the issues—what people like them think—and to be familiar with the arguments or reasons for holding these views. If challenged, they can then recall and reiterate these arguments. They’ve made them a part of their identities, a part of their brains, and in doing so, they’ve drawn a strong emotional connection between certain “facts” or claims, and their deeply held political values. And they’re ready to argue.

Not only does this explanation confirm the recent study showing the more you watch Fox news the less you know, but it sheds light on what I would call the “framing effect.”

“In fact, there is even research suggesting that the most rigid and inflexible breed of conservatives—so-called authoritarians—do not really become their ideological selves until they actually learn something about politics first. A kind of “authoritarian activation” needs to occur, and it happens through the development of political “expertise.” Consuming a lot of political information seems to help authoritarians feel who they are—whereupon they become more accepting of inequality, more dogmatically traditionalist, and more resistant to change.”

This activation, I would argue, is felt upon being exposed to right wing “frames” and cause one to fall victim to the “framing effect”, where only the frames make sense, and all other facts that don’t fit the frame are rejected.  The more right wing political knowledge Conservatives acquire, (ie, the more exposure to these frames) the more adamant the rejection of the facts that don’t fit the frame, and the more likely the “smart idiot” effect will be found.


4 thoughts on “How consuming too many “frames” can lead to a nation of “smart idiots”: The hazard of believing in misinformation

  1. The fact that conservatives who watch fox news are deceived will in no way negate their guilt in supporting those seeking to foist conservative tyranny on the rest of us by force of law.

  2. Superbly written. When I finished your article, it left me with the feelings of anger and sadness. Anger at the lies being spouted and sad for the smart people who have become the “smart idiot”. They will one day realize that they were fooled only to be afraid to admit the error in judgement.

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