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The relationship between headline and reader

Watch this video to understand how the general public process newspaper headlines.
Imagine you’re reading a newspaper or scrolling through news articles on your phone. What do you look for? How do you decide what articles to read? Invariably it all comes down to headlines, which ones jump out at you. Some of them might have enticed you with particular issues, used certain language that drew you in, or perhaps it was a specific statistics that made you want to find out more. When reading headlines, cognitive processes come into play. Many models of cognitive processes distinguish between two systems. System one is fast and effortless. It makes intuitive judgements. Often emotional reactions are linked with system one. It gave us an evolutionary advantage. It is important to detect poisoned food or to react to dangerous animals.
However, it is also prone to biases. It is poor in interpreting numbers and probabilities. It is also responsible for present bias. On the other hand, system two does the hard thinking. It’s slow and effortful. It monitors and controls system one. For example, when you try to understand a scientific paper, often decisions based on system two are better as they are deliberative. However we can also make mistakes despite hard thinking. What to do to improve our judgements when scanning the newspaper in the morning. The first thing we can do is to improve judgments by system one. Expertise helps us to correctly interpret complex information without deliberative thinking. Second we can educate system two.
This helps people to draw the right conclusion and make the effortful, deliberative thinking easier. For example, statistics training would improve our ability to interpret numbers. Finally we can improve decision readiness. Train system two to realise when it pays to take over from system one. Even if headlines contain only small pieces of information, they can bias the reader to a specific interpretation of the newspaper content. So it’s good to be wary, and next time ask yourself, what is the truth behind this headline?

What influences how we interpret the information we are presented with? Watch this video to understand how we process headlines and why we sometimes interpret these differently.

What is it that you want from news media? Share your thoughts in the discussion below.

Every video on this course has both subtitles and a PDF transcript in the ‘Downloads’ section.

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