Emotions and information
On Saturday our local CCL group in Denmark WA had a stall at the Christmas markets. We asked people to “send a climate-friendly Christmas card” to the MP of their choice. We gave them a list of 15 sticky phrases to choose from, such as “Please give us net-zero for Christmas” and “Please give us thousands of clean energy jobs this Christmas”. We had fun and passers-by really appreciated the opportunity to send climate-friendly Christmas messages. It was all quite emotional.
Emotions are infectious and the human mind is easily infected by information that has emotional components. We soak up all sorts of information most of our waking hours. Our ability to discriminate about what we take in and what we reject is partly determined by their emotional content.
We are all vulnerable to taking in misinformation. I recently attended a workshop on anti-Jewish oppression and came to understand how powerfully even subtle messages of antisemitism can infect large sections of humanity. Sexism, racism and many other ‘isms’ work in the same way. I also learned that these messages have an emotional component as they are hurtful to the open and interconnected minds we are born with.
Misinformation is sticky
Psychologist Ullrich Ecker shared the results of important research on this phenomenon in our December Monthly Meeting. He showed that when we are exposed to misinformation, subsequent exposure to correct information only partially reverses the effect of the misinformation. He calls it the “Continued Influence Effect” and summed it up as follows:
- Misinformation continues to influence reasoning after corrections.
- Corrections (generally) reduce misinformation impact but do not eliminate it
The implications for our work are profound. We are aware that our MPs are exposed to extraordinary amounts of information in their daily work. They are lobbied extensively by well-paid lobbyists, who have interests in preventing or slowing down emissions reduction. It is no secret that wealthy interest groups and think tanks are able to access most of our MPs almost routinely. Those same interests are legally entitled to give money and other gifts to political parties who might favour them with favourable decisions and legislation. So we know the problem we are up against.
Our way to fight misinformation
The good news is that recovery is possible, that corrections do work and CCL’s relationship-based approach is probably one of the best ways to do it. With our aim to have active groups in each electorate using the five levers of political will we are well placed to provide a constant stream of positive, solution-focussed information that goes some way towards correcting the misinformation they are absorbing from other sources.
A few days ago Belinda Teh, nominee for Young Australian of the Year, addressed our AGM on the success of her campaign to support voluntary assisted dying legislation in WA ,which included her walk from Melbourne to Perth. She described the power of positive imagery, symbols and emotions in bringing people round to supporting the cause. For example, she believes that the positive images of MPs and citizens working side by side for the common good that she generated in her campaign were very effective.
Use positive emotions against negative emotions
This connects back to the emotional nature of the damage that misinformation does to our minds. I have learned from my counselling experience that misinformation like sexism and anti-Semitism is much easier to reverse through the expression and release of emotion. In other words, the hurtful emotions used to install the misinformation in the first place. It is the emotion that makes the misinformation so sticky. And it is warm, positive, connected emotion that helps unstick it.
Again, our relationship-based approach makes it easier to engage at an emotional level. By building ongoing, respectful relationships, meeting face to face, writing often and having photo-opportunities with our MPs, we are able to deliver our positive messages at an emotional level. Our climate-friendly Christmas messages are just one of the many ways we can engage emotionally to push back against the wall of misinformation that we and our MPs are being subjected to.
Picture: Belinda meeting Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews at the start of her walk to Perth. Source: Dying with Dignity.