Your New BFF: Brain Food Fridays

Welcome to May’s edition of Brain Food Friday (BFF)! We’re bringing you the latest in communication research to help shape effective strategies that get results.  

This month, we’re exploring how social media platforms influence our behavior and society. We’re also digging into audience trust and perceptions. From political discourse with strangers to maximizing the impact of podcast guests, these studies offer insights into the complexities of technology and human interaction. 

Social Media Influence

YouTube’s New Tool: Fact-Check with Wikipedia-Style Citations  

Videos can be dense with information: text, audio and images — and each layer presents a potential source for misinformation. To address this problem, researchers developed and tested Viblio, a browser plugin that allows users to add Wikipedia-style citations to YouTube videos. This tool assists in providing sources that support, deny or expand on the information offered in videos, therefore boosting the capacity to evaluate video trustworthiness.  

  • Encouraging Lateral Reading: Viblio encouraged participants to undertake “lateral reading” by examining different sources on the web to verify information as they consumed the content. This practice helps improve critical assessment skills when analyzing the reliability of online content.  
  • Improved Credibility: Using the Viblio plugin helped all participants better rate the credibility of YouTube videos by providing more citations. However, issues included dealing with contradictory citations attached to the same video and ensuring that all user-added material was correct.  
  • Key Takeaway: The study found that community-sourced citations are beneficial in increasing the trustworthiness of YouTube videos. This indicates a move toward collaborative verification procedures in public relations and communications tactics, where stakeholders are encouraged to actively participate in fact-checking and information validation.  

The Truth Behind the 2020 Election  

As we head into another presidential election year, researchers are reporting the findings of a study about the 2020 presidential election that investigated whether Facebook and Instagram usage influenced political perspectives and increased polarization.  

  • Social Media Hiatus: In the weeks leading up to the 2020 presidential election, researchers asked over 35,000 Facebook and Instagram users to stay off both platforms to study their impact on political division in the United States.   
  • Actual Impact: Although deactivating both Facebook and Instagram reduced political engagement among participants, primarily due to decreased online activity, the study found that it did not significantly impact political perspectives, polarization or perceptions of election legitimacy. At the same time, deactivating social media platforms revealed Facebook’s effect on individuals’ knowledge of news, showing that users who abstained during the study had reduced and limited awareness of current events.    
  • Misinformation Inoculation: The study also found that users without access to Facebook or Instagram were less likely to fall for widely circulated misinformation, further demonstrating the platform’s role in spreading both accurate and inaccurate news.  
  • Key Takeaway: Despite alterations in news feeds and refraining from Facebook and Instagram, there was little effect on political perspectives and voter turnout, indicating that, while Facebook and Instagram play a role in news consumption and potentially misinformation, the platforms don’t exert as much influence on shaping political attitudes during an election season as previously thought.     

The Influence of Social Media on Perceptions of Mental Illness

Minor differences in the wording of social media content have the power to shape young adults’ views on depression, anxiety and their treatments.  

  • Weight of Words: Social media posts wield significant influence over young adults’ perceptions of depression and anxiety treatment. Those advocating for a “growth mindset” foster optimism among college students regarding mental health treatment. For example, “Recovery is possible with time, effort and support.” Conversely, messages promoting a “fixed mindset,” instill beliefs in the enduring nature of depression and anxiety, with limited treatment prospects. For example, “I’ll never get better; this is just how I am.”  
  • There’s Hope: In a study with 322 college students who read mental health social media posts, those who saw messages promoting a “growth mindset” felt more hopeful about depression and anxiety being temporary and treatable. On the other hand, those who read posts promoting a “fixed mindset” had less hope about improving these issues, revealing that short exposure to different posts affected what the students believed.  
  • Key Takeaway: The study suggests that growth mindset messages on social media may bolster individuals’ willingness to seek help for depression or anxiety and their confidence in treatment outcomes. This underscores the importance of ensuring that social media content accurately reflects the treatable nature of mental health conditions.  

Trust and Perception  

Who Do We Trust? Study Reveals People’s Views on Different Types of Scientists  

Researchers from the Universiteit van Amsterdam evaluated trust levels in 45 categories of scientists, including political scientists, economists, neuroscientists and marine biologists.  

  • Trust Level Variation: Trust in scientists varies by field, with political scientists and economists being the least trusted (scoring 3.71 and 4.28 on a scale of 1 to 7), and neuroscientists and marine biologists being the most trusted (scoring 5.53 and 5.54).   
  • Driving Trust Factors: Competence and morality are the key drivers of confidence in scientists. When scientists are regarded to be competent and ethically upright, people are more likely to include them in society issue solving.  
  • Key Takeaway: When it comes to trust, all scientists aren’t equal. As we work to promote research and data, it’s important to provide additional context, as well as information about credentials and experience for scientist types who aren’t at the top of the trustworthy scale.  

Communication and Interaction  

The Surprising Benefits of Discussing Politics with Strangers  

This study partnered participants to talk about controversial topics, while observing their conversations and evaluating their opinions. The research aimed to explore people’s experiences discussing political differences with strangers.  

  • Positive Politics: Findings challenge the need to avoid political talks with strangers, revealing that such conversations often foster unexpected positivity.   
  • Underestimating Common Ground: Most participants believed they would have an unpleasant interaction with someone who has opposing views. Once in dialogue, many who were conversing with people who held opposing views gained stronger feelings of empathy and respect.   
  • Key Takeaway: Being open to conversations can bridge ideologies and strengthen connections. As communication professionals, this helps demonstrate that encouraging dialogue can be a powerful tool in engaging audiences on controversial issues.  

Podcast Guest Dynamics: Maximizing Impact  

The study, conducted by Pew Research Center, analyzed 434 top-ranked podcasts.  

  • Strategic Outreach: Two-thirds (76%) of podcasts feature guests, which should offer endless opportunities for communicators to feature their spokespeople.   
  • Diversifying Representation: However, most of the top podcasts use the same guests repeatedly. It’s not clear whether that’s a preference or lack of access to a more diverse guest lineup.   
  • Key Takeaways: If you’re having trouble booking spokespeople on top-ranked podcasts, that could indicate producers’ unwillingness to take a chance on unknown guests. Beef up your podcast pitching by including stats about your spokesperson’s audience reach and previous interview appearances.   

Stay tuned for more bite-sized news from your BFF!