In How Television Can Make You Believe Things That Aren't True Tom Jacobs summarizes research that "nuggets of misinformation embedded in a fictional television program can seep into our brains and lodge there as perceived facts."
The “sleeper effect” — the notion we can hold onto a piece of information while gradually forgetting it came from an unreliable source — was first proposed in the late 1940s, and a meta-analysis in 2004 confirmed its validity. [emphasis mine]
... delayed-message effects “may be larger and meaningfully different” in cases where the misinformation is presented in fictional form. In other words, we may be particularly susceptible to believing falsehoods originally conveyed to us through fiction,...
Yesterday I happened upon a Sesame Street episode in which people were changed into bees by magical spells. These effects could begin to mold minds too young to even distinguish fiction from fact.
To my mind there's a related way misinformation can be lodged in our minds while we forget it's false, shows like Penn and Teller's Tell a Lie. You hear the bogus fact repeated over and over and over, reinforced by reviewing the same "evidence" video ad nauseam. Much later you're informed that, oh yes this one was the lie. By this time I'd already overlearned it, laid down neural pathways. Now I'm supposed to append a little "not" sign on those strong pathways, and remember that "not" for the rest of my life. So first they fill me with misinformation, then challenge me to remember it's misinformation. My brain doesn't have room for that crap. I have enough trouble remembering the bazillions of actual facts about the world.
I've got to get to bed soon, so this will be brief:
Orson Wells' "War of the Worlds," anyone?
That LOLcat is sooo funny!
I just love it!
I remember studying in one of my psychology classes (I think the class was Sensation and Perception -- it was a long time ago) that you forget the source of the information -- but you still retain the information. Therefore, many people can recall information -- however, the source is suspect.
Research is beginning to give us an understanding of how false memories of complete, emotional and self-participatory experiences are created in adults. First, there are social demands on individuals to remember; for instance, researchers exert some pressure on participants in a study to come up with memories. Second, memory construction by imagining events can be explicitly encouraged when people are having trouble remembering. And, finally, individuals can be encouraged not to think about whether their constructions are real or not. Creation of false memories is most likely to occur when these external factors are present, whether in an experimental setting, in a therapeutic setting or during everyday activities.
False memories are constructed by combining actual memories with the content of suggestions received from others. During the process, individuals may forget the source of the information. This is a classic example of source confusion, in which the content and the source become dissociated.
ELIZABETH F. LOFTUS is professor of psychology and adjunct professor of law at the University of Washington. She received her Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford University in 1970.
Thanks for the helpful link, Steph. "... individuals can be encouraged not to think about whether their constructions are real or not", that captures our daily entertainment succinctly!
Kari Marie Norgaard discusses the work of Eviatar Zerubavel, in the context of climate change, but it also applies here.
Zerubavel's work tells us that whether people notice information about climate change is related to socially shaped systems of perception and attention, whether they remember what they hear is a function of social systems of memory, whether it is considered morally offensive or not is a function of whether it is inside or outside socially defined limits of concern; and the relevance of climate change to daily life is a function of socially shaped systems of cognitive organization... [emphasis mine]
Our milieu of daily fictional entertainment embodies a socially shaped system of cognitive organization where fiction and reality intentionally mix, where individuals are encouraged not to think about whether constructions are real or not. Think about the number of hours you think this way (watch TV fiction). Is there some percentage of daily consciousness tipping point where this social system of memory for characters/plot details/technobabble/supernaturalbabble from fiction indelibly colors global cognitive organization? There might be a background social shaping at work, more than simple source confusion.