Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

July 19, 2010


Host: Ted Simons

Backfiring Facts

  |   Video
  • Research has shown that not only do facts not sway some people’s political opinions, they can actually backfire and cause a person to become more entrenched in their beliefs. Patrick Kenney, the Director of ASU’s School of Politics and Global Studies, will discuss how facts can backfire with regard to political beliefs.
Guests:
  • Patrick Kenney - Director, ASU's School of Politics
Category: Vote 2010   |   Keywords: politics, campaigning, campaign,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: it's often been said that facts are stubborn things but the opposite could also be true. researchers have found that facts can actually backfire and make people more entrenched in their political beliefs. here to talk about this phenomenon is Patrick Kenney, director of arizona's state university school of politics and global studies. good to see you again. thanks for joining us.

Patrick Kenney: thank you.

Ted Simons: facts don't necessarily change minds. explain what's going on here?

Patrick Kenney: right, people who hold political attitudes, those attitudes take a long time to cement and come together. they're often based in family and politics over time and so if facts run counter to what these people believe, what many voters believe, they often don't change their mind. they hold pretty firm and kind of ignore those facts altogether.

Ted Simons: let's say you believe tax cuts do a certain thing whether it's good or bad and that's been your belief for your lifetime, yet all the research and pretty credible folks could show you the graphs and the numbers, not only will you not believe them, you'll become further entrenched in your beliefs?

Patrick Kenney: especially when the sender, that is the person that's giving that you information, if that person in the opposite view in particular. so if you don't trust the source, you can almost automatically dig in deeper on your own beliefs.

Ted Simons: the is study suggests that the politically sophisticate are the worst?

Patrick Kenney: the politically sophisticated, a very small portion of the population, they are the political elites, they tend to be in the media, interest groups. they have strong ability to counterargue facts they don't like to hear.

Ted Simons: i want to make sure we're not confusing the uninformed with the misinformed, correct?

Patrick Kenney: correct. right, there's 50 years of research. i think this resonates with a lot of people. politics takes a lot of time to follow and to stay attuned to and everyone's very busy in their daily lives. and for lots of good reasons, people don't follow politics all that frequently. we have found on a lot of public policy issues, they actually do not hold strong views at all and they're not consistent in those views. it's the politically sophisticated, it's the elites who -- not only the voters, ok? it's about half the population but people who work in politics, politicians, press, interest groups, those kinds of people. those are the kinds of people that hold these strong views.

Ted Simons: why is this happening? it makes sense to say, hey, listen, this is right, this is wrong and for you not to believe just because it comes from someone you may not also have other beliefs with, why is this going on?

Patrick Kenney: research has shown -- it's been a pretty consistent pattern over time, some of the most recent research showed the heightened heavily partisan environment. there's a strong divide especially among political elites but it's resonating among many voters, too, that they do not trust another party, other interest groups other sources for the information they hear.

Ted Simons: what about the glut of information on the internet, you can find anything you want on the internet, agreeing or disagreeing. how much is that playing a factor?

Patrick Kenney: we think it's playing a dramatic factor, there's two strong findings we're seeing on this. one is the people who aren't interested in politics, there's a lot more easily accessible information about politics, they tend not to follow that, they tend to go to all the new entertainment sources out there. we've not elevated a larger percentage of people who follow politics. that's not changed. a lot of people who talk about the strength of democracy was hoping that would happen. the second thing is now all the selection so people who like politics and follow it tend to gravitate to the sources that say what they wanted to hear. psychologists call attribution theory or agreement principles. you want to hear and agree with your beliefs.

Ted Simons: we do debates here on "horizon." i like to think when we get candidates together and they talk about things and debate back-and-forth, viewers are watching and weighing the two candidates on what they say, the information they're getting and who seems to have it right and who seems to have it wrong. you're saying not necessarily?

Patrick Kenney: right, not necessarily and there's actually two affects you can think about there. one it tends to re-enforce preexisting attitudes, unless we're seeing some effects where the news media help interpret, debate a specific situation. sophisticated politicians often sound very good next to one another and so if you came in liking politician a that politician probably sounds good. if you like politician b, they probably sounded good but they may go to a neutral draw as you listen to the information especially when they talk about public policy you're not following, the media could have a strong impact in interpreting that.

Ted Simons: is that because our brains are wired to make short cuts? we're busy with other things as you mentioned earlier? make it a shortcut, make it precise and we'll take it from there?

Patrick Kenney: we know people use shortcuts when they're assessing politicians. one easy shortcut cue is political party.

Ted Simons: give me the ramifications for our democracy here with the idea being you can be as clear as your facts and no one cares.

Patrick Kenney: this is a longstanding debate among theorists in democracy over the past 2000 years especially over the past 300 years because there's been so many new democracies. how many people have to be informed? how many people have to know exactly what they're talking about? there's no good answer to that. people go back-and-forth. the united states is the longest standing democracy currently in the world and we know that sizable proportion of our electorate doesn't follow politics at all.

Ted Simons: is there a way, though to address the phenomenon of being presented with facts that disprove your beliefs and yet you still not only continue with your beliefs but are even holding to them stronger? is there anything you can do about that?

Patrick Kenney: probably not. at least not in the evidence we're seeing right now. people do tend to change their mind on view -- on issues they don't view are very salient to them but of course then we're not really interested in those because most of the important issues are salient to people. right now, the given way we look at this research, it doesn't seem to be very hopeful you can persuade people in different kinds of views.

Ted Simons: last question, the whole idea of you grow older, you grow wiser, you're a little more able to balance things do we see anything as far as age differences here?

Patrick Kenney: i see the opposite. the older you grow, the more entrenched you are in your beliefs. you've held them longer. harder to persuade you to do differently.

Ted Simons: basically i can wear a clown costume and stand up there and spout all kinds of things and if folks like me, i could be elected whether or not what i say is true or false?

Patrick Kenney: depending on the cue you give off as a clown.

Ted Simons: wow! that's somewhat disturbing but interesting stuff. thanks so much for joining us. we appreciate it.

Patrick Kenney: you're welcome.

Financial Regulation Reform

  |   Video
  • Wayne Stutzer, Senior Vice President and Financial Consultant for RBC Wealth Management, discusses the federal financial reform legislation.
Guests:
  • Wayne Stutzer - Senior Vice President and Financial Consultant for RBC Wealth Management
Category: Business/Economy   |   Keywords: wall street, finance,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: President obama will sign major financial reform into law this week. the reforms are aimed at practices that led to the 2008 financial meltdown. here to talk about the changes to wall street is Wayne Stutzer, senior vice president and financial consultant for rbc wealth management. good to see you again. thanks for joining us.

Wayne Stutzer: thank you.

Ted Simons: so what changes? how will the big lenders now be held accountable?

Wayne Stutzer: that's the big question because there's 350 mandated rules that still have to be worked out, regulators will get a lot of leeway. that means there'll probably be more and more, you know, input from the banks, investment banks across the country so i would say to you that this is like an architectural rendition. there's a -- where the walls will eventually go in and windows and the plugs and all the details, we probably have a two year work in process here.

Ted Simons: in terms of theory, though, how is this supposed to change things?

Wayne Stutzer: in theory, how this is supposed to change things is telling the big investment banks if they want to trade in their own accounts, they have to keep more capital aside to do that. So if they get into difficulties and lose a boatload of money trading a commodity the wrong way, the depositors won't be at risk as much.

Ted Simons: how about -- and i know there are a lot of critics who were concerned that the big banks, the banks too big to fail are still too big to fail?

Wayne Stutzer: in many ways, that's so true. we had to differentiate between commercial banks and investment banks. What we’re really talking about is a handful of "investment banks." it used to be in the old days that the investment banks and the commercial banks were separated, especially after the 1930's with the glass-steagall act. we had the nice period of peace in the banking industry for almost 50 years and then in 1998, the glass-steagall act was abolished and the investment banks and the brokerage firms could come together again and 10 years later, here is the mess.

Ted Simons: are they separate now?

Wayne Stutzer: no, they're not separate. there's not a real clear differentiation. that was what paul had hoped for but pretty hard to do that, commingle as they've been over the last 10 years. in some ways, it's not as historic as one would have liked, including myself here, but they have to cough up more capital or put more aside. of course, they're saying the big investment banks, and if we put more aside, we're not going to be able to lend as much.

Ted Simons: how about the small banks and the cost and credit to them? i know there's a lot of concern out there that small banks will be swamped with this thing?

Wayne Stutzer: with small banks, the cost to them is hiring people to help them understand the 350 mandated rules so it'll be a cost to them to hire staff to just tell them what they can and cannot do to keep them in -- to keep them from getting into trouble. that's probably the biggest cost to the small community banks around the country.

Ted Simons: the reaction around the world, i know that everyone's kind of watching what america does as far as regulation reform is concerned, maybe a lot of places are looking to mirror that reform. what are you hearing so far?

Wayne Stutzer: um, that too early to tell but it's a first step. i do believe in the 21st century where we have global markets working 24/7, that we need rules beyond the united states, because there's still a lot of thinking that hey, if you make it too tough here, the big traders will just move the game to another place. my contention is that the globe has to realize that in certain circumstances when it comes to money, you do need rules and regulations and when i hear them crying that it's going to dry up the "liquidity" or "we won't attract the best talent" i'd rather see the best talent go to intel.

Ted Simons: interesting. among the theories i've heard so many talking about, there's a variety of yap ways, that the idea without glass-steagall, you can sky rocket. you can also fall as we did in 2008. is the idea now slow and steady as she goes?

Wayne Stutzer: that's what i would hope. it's my contention that the retail investor really does feel tricked and has walked away from wall street and it's my hope that wall street will come back to main street. wall street's main purpose was a win-win where the bankers brought capital to companies, you bought stock in those companies as an investor, not a trader, which meant that you held it for more than a day or hour. hopefully the company prospered and you prospered with the stocks going higher or dividends being paid out to you. so it was a win-win. in the past few years, wall street was taken over by traders, traders have a different idea, and that's win and die.

Ted Simons: what is the average joe going to see?

Wayne Stutzer: probably not anything right now. the average joe will sit back and wait. they still feel tricked. they've not seen wall street slow down. We have the flash trade days where the market bungee jumped like back in may. So they don't buy into this yet. the average investors in a fear mode will wait to see before they come back in any big way.

Ted Simons: all right, wayne, thanks for joining us. we appreciate it.

Wayne Stutzer: you bet. thank you.

Optical Illusions

  |   Video
  • Optical Illusions are fun to look at, but they can also give scientists insight into how our eyes and brains function. Researchers Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde of Barrow Neurological Institute will explain what they’ve learned about human eyesight and brain function from studying how we see optical illusions.
Guests:
  • Stephen Macknik - Barrow Neurological Institute
  • Susana Martinez-Conde - Barrow Neurological Institute
Category: Science

View Transcript
Ted Simons: our minds may be fooled by strongly held beliefs but you can believe what you see, right? not so fast. researchers from barrows neurological institute in phoenix are looking at optical illusions and how the brain perceive the world. with me is Stephen Macknik and Susannah Martinez-Conde. glad to have you with us. what got you started in the visual illusions?

Susannah Martinez-Conde: we're visual scientists by training. visual illusions are one of the most important tools to understand how our brain constructs our visual experience because they disassociate what is out there from the way we see it. that gives a handling of the mechanisms behind it.

Ted Simons: there's a difference between visual illusions and optical illusions.

Stephen Macknik: that's right. the real world has physical things happening in it like you can have smoke and mirrors, reflections. those are optical illusions. when you have a piece of pencil in a glass of water and it looks like it's bent, that's refraction of light. that's an optical illusion. visual illusions are effects that happen because of the way we process information in our brains. we're not saying the real world isn't out there, it really is, but we've never actually been there, none of us have. and so by studying these illusions, we can really understand better how it is that we interact with each other and the world.

Ted Simons: how much do we know as far as what the brain perceives? what do we know? what do we not know?

Susannah Martinez-Conde: the brain has over 2,000 areas dedicated to processing visual information. we know more or less what the first three stages do. the rest is mostly an open question.

Ted Simons: interesting. we have a bunch of examples here. i want to get to these before we get too deeply in our conversation. the first one is interesting in the sense we have square a and square b and you're telling me that they are both the same shades of gray?

Stephen Macknik: that's right. so if you look at the soda can's shadow, you see that covers the square labeled b and the square labeled a in the background looks dark but they're exactly the same amount of light coming off of there and you can convince yourself of this by putting a mask over this for instance and looking at the two squares.

Ted Simons: why do they look different?

Susannah Martinez-Conde: it depends on context. to the brain, there's no absolute black and white. everything depends on what you compare it with. so for the brain, it doesn't access a and b individually but places them in the context of the shadow cast by the soda can it subtracts the shadow and concludes that b is lighter.

Ted Simons: that plays a part in something as simple as reading? because you've got a white background with black print?

Susannah Martinez-Conde: it does. in fact, if you look at newspaper under artificial light and take the same newspaper outside, in both cases, you see as you mentioned black letters on a white background, however, the amount of photo is reflected by the black letters outside is more than the amount of photos reflected by the white paper inside and yet you see black letters on a white background in both cases.

Ted Simons: interesting. all right, let's get to our next one. this looks a little bit like a rubik's cube but it's different and you're telling me again that these two squares -- now, which are the two that you say are the same color?

Stephen Macknik: so the middle square inside the shadow --

Ted Simons: the bright one there?

Stephen Macknik: that's right. and the middle square on the top surface.

Ted Simons: the dark one?

Stephen Macknik: yes, that's right. those two shades of brown are physically identical on your retina but you see them as different because you're seeing them under different lighting conditions. these illusions, these brightness and these color illusions are incredibly important for us and they allow us to recognize the same object as being the same inside and outside and in different lighting conditions.

Ted Simons: again, why is our brain -- i know mine is why are our brains looking at that going, "those aren't the same colors?"

Susannah Martinez-Conde: it wouldn't be very useful to know the exact color and the exact wave length of each object in the environment whether there's a shadow or direct light because that would mean that the same sweater that you wear inside and outside would change colors when you step in and out of the house. it'll be very confusing to know what fruit is ripe and what isn't so you want a discount environment.

Ted Simons: interesting.

Stephen Macknik: just to follow up on that point. for instance, if you're inside the cave with your child and you walk outside in direct sunlight, physically that child looks very different. different colors of light, different brightnesses of light. it looks physically like a different person but you recognize that as being your child which is a good thing so you don't eat it or something.

Ted Simons: sure.

Stephen Macknik: so you know that's the exact person in these two environments. it's a physical illusion.

Susannah Martinez-Conde: it used to be thought by most people in the field of vision research that illusions are errors of perception. illusions are where the brain gets it wrong but more and more we're seeing that illusions play an active value and in fact these are fundamental processes of our -- that helps us survive.

Ted Simons: there's another one. the deal is if you move your eyes around this, you're saying and i hope it translates on tv as well as it does in print. everything's moving. if you focus on one of the black dots in the middle, everything slows down. why?

Stephen Macknik: well, your motion neurons in your brain, they see when you move your eye around, they're seeing the different shades of gray. we're seeing it in color here but in fact, if you think of them in shades of gray it goes from dark to light to dark to light. and the motion neurons see that as motion in one direction. when they change in the opposite direction, they see it as well in the opposite direction. it's the way we process the motion in individual neurons.

Ted Simons: why am i seeing this when i see that?

Stephen Macknik: not all illusion have an adaptive value per se. But they may come from process in your brain that do so the way that your motion sensitive neurons in your brain are wired up, it just has the side effect of sometimes you'll see motion when there isn't but the fact is that this is -- if you want kind an artificial stimulus with all the repetition of the little bits and pieces that have the different touches of gray all in the same sequence -- so it'll be very rare, almost impossible to see this in nature. so you're not going to get diluted in real life.

Ted Simons: yeah, ok. that's good. that's good to hear. the next is similar in which they show things -- this is the exact same photograph of the leaning tower of pizza. why does the one on the right look like it's angled more than the one on the left?

Stephen Macknik: well, this has to do with the way we see depths in the real world when we see things like two towers, we're standing at the base of them and looking at them, we see two towers that are completely parallel going up into the world, they would converge in the distance or when you're looking at train tracks -- in the next image, you see train tracks. they converge in the distance when they're parallel. what is happening here with two photographs which we haven't evolved to see. they've only existed for the last 150-200 years when you see photographs next to each other, those are two parallel things that don't converse. they are phyiscally parallel though they look like they're receding into the distance. your brain interprets them as it must be diverging.

Ted Simons: is this my brain looking at a do two-dimensional image trying to make sense of it in three dimensional ways?

Susannah Martinez-Conde: that's part of it. it has to do with the mechanisms the brain perceives distance and volume. the fact we can see distance in a painting in a piece of art and how the painters take advantage and develop the rules of perspective, this is because the same mechanisms that makes us see three dimensionality in a flat painting, this is how our brain works.

Ted Simons: this rail road track one is more dramatic than the two towers. you're looking at two photographs that are exactly the same but the one on the left just looks so different.

Stephen Macknik: that's right, it's the same concept. so you see the parallel train tracks in either one of the images converges into the distance whereas if you take the identical photographs of the train tracks, they don't converge into the distance. they're parallel, physically, geometrically. that means to your brain they must be diverging. this is the kind of concept that fred kingdom and elaine georgio at mcgill realized was critically important to how we see depth and was part of our illusion contest we hold every year.

Ted Simons: we've only got a minute left. what kind of response are you getting to this research?

Susannah Martinez-Conde: a good one.

Ted Simons: yeah, i guess.

Susannah Martinez-Conde: visual illusions -- they're fun to study because they're not only fundemental in studying vision but they're also important in understanding vision disease. that's part of what we try to do in the barrow neurological institute to apply the basic discoveries we do in our laboratories to translate them to the clinic.

Ted Simons: and again the response in what you're learning from this kind research?

Stephen Macknik: it's been tremendous. one of our articles on this stuff, our on-line articles is scientific american, we have a monthly column, was the most downloaded article in scientific american history. In response they published 169 issues currently on the newsstands.

Ted Simons: there are things in this issue that will almost give you a headache looking at these things because they're remarkable. it's fascinating stuff. thank you both for joining tonight. we appreciate it.

Susannah Martinez-Conde: thank you for having us.

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