The Power of Subtlety
P1. Whether we like it or not, first impressions are important. Unfortunately, people tend to make up their mind with very little information. Good first impression improve your career opportunities and make forming new relationships easier, while bad first impressions create a difficult obstacle to overcome. After people have formed an opinion, it is hard to change it. The narrative created in the original article written about the murder of Kitty Genovese has still affected the public’s idea of the murder. The original article still influences people despite many of the most powerful points have shown to be wrong. The title, “37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call Police,” is not true. The actual number of witnesses that understood a murder was in progress was likely closer to 7. It is also untrue that no one called the police or intervened. At least one witness claimed to call the police and told them that a woman was being assaulted. Another witness called the police and ran outside to Kitty once she realized what was going on. Another shouted at the murder and temporarily scared him off. The article creates a compelling story where a large group of ordinary people stand by and watch a tragedy happen. It seems strange that people still believe this story after it being shown to be false.
P2. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. People have misconceptions about this murder because they don’t have enough information about it. Almost 60 percent of people surveyed said that they only read headlines. It is likely the actual number is high due to some being embarrassed and unwilling to admit that they only read headlines. If the majority of people are basing their opinions off of the title alone, it makes sense that they have a warped view of the actual story. They have never heard any interpretation of the story. Even if the other 40 percent of the people read the article, they would still be influenced by the headline. Headlines are meant to grab the attention of the reader. Unfortunately, they also influence the reader. A study has shown that misleading headlines impair information processing. A headline interprets a story for the reader and creates a bias in the reader before they get a chance to read the article themselves. After reading the headline,” 37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call Police,”, the readers were already influenced to the interpretation of the writer. They read the article with a bias in their head and fail to interpret the information for themselves.
P3. The misleading headline didn’t only influence people while they were reading the article. Misleading headlines like the one used in the article change which details the reader remembers from the article. People are more likely to remember details that are related to and support the headline and dismiss other information. They are also more likely to remember the headline even if it is not proven or supported by the article. This means that it is likely that readers remember the headline that told them that 37 people watched a woman get murdered but forget that a man intervened by yelling at the murderer and that a woman called the police and stayed beside the body while ambulances arrived.
P4. Headlines can also invoke an emotional response from the viewer. A headline like, “37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call Police,” invokes a very strong response. It makes the reader angry at the bystanders that failed to act, upset a person was so close to help but didn’t receive any, and confused why the witnesses didn’t call the police. These emotions influence how well the reader can rationally think about the article. It has been shown that mood can affect how well a person does on intelligence tests. People in a good mood perform better than people in a bad mood. Therefore, it is likely mood also affects how well a person can read an article and form reasonably opinions about it. After reading a title that makes the reader angry and upset, they are not in a good state of mind to read the article. Because they were impaired by their emotions, they were less adept at forming reasonable opinions.
P5. After forming these misled beliefs on the murder, people failed to change them when presented with newer and better information due to simple biases. Everyone is subjected to confirmation biases. We like to be right and we trust ourselves to have the right opinion. After all, we were the ones who formed it. People tend to embrace information that supports our belief and ignore or even attack information that contradicts it. People ignored evidence that showed that the original article was wrong or misleading. Without giving new evidence a chance, it is impossible for someone to change their opinion. Because this article was likely the first information the readers received about the murder, the readers were subjected to the first impression bias. People tend to give more weight to information they received earlier. The information used to create a first impression is more important to a person and is harder to refute. These biases make it difficult to effectively argue and change people’s minds. The result is people holding onto their old beliefs and opinions.
P6. Unfortunately, the deck is stacked against well thought out opinions. Even the people that give an honest effort at finding the truth are mislead. Headlines pull them off the course. Headlines cause them to focus on specific details, manipulate their emotions, and leave them at the mercy of the author. Biases make it more difficult to change an established opinion. It is difficult to change an opinion. It means admitting you were wrong. Changing your opinion means we are not perfect.
Ecker, Ullrich , Stephan Lewandowsky, Ee Pin Chang, and Rekha Pillai. ” The effects of subtle misinformation in news headlines. .” PsycNET (2014): n. pag. APA. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
Gansberg, Martin. “37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 26 Mar. 1964. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
Jung, Nadine, Christina Wranke, Kai Hamburger, and Markus Knauff. “How emotions affect logical reasoning: evidence from experiments with mood-manipulated participants, spider phobics, and people with exam anxiety.” Frontiers in Psychology 5 (2014): n. pag. Web.
Konnikova, Maria. “How Headlines Change the Way We Think.” The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 17 Dec. 2014. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
Sanchez, I am mystified that you would spend 1000 words to demonstrate the reasons newspaper readers would be convinced of the truth of the bystander effect after slight exposure to the Kitty Genovese case. Is it really worth 1/3 of your word count? So many other causal arguments seem more important, primarily, of course, the causes for inaction among those who fall under the effect.
Also unclear is what conclusions you’d like those early misled readers to abandon. Is your point that they should mistrust the bystander effect? Or is it that they should, like you, retain their belief in the effect while relinquishing the notion that the Genovese case is a good example of it? After 6 paragraphs, I’m unsure.
One last thing you might clear up for me. The phrase “the bystander effect” wasn’t fashionable at the time of the case, so headline readers in the days and weeks following the murder wouldn’t have drawn any conclusions about it. The much more popular explanation at the time was that New Yorkers were individually selfish (not succumbing to a group dynamic at all) and just “didn’t want to get involved.”
Maybe you can refute those notions of mine in another place.
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I spent so many words on the newspaper because I thought that is was important to explain why people had misconceptions about the murder. I wanted to show that without the misconceptions, it’s clear that the BE wasn’t in effect. Although the term “bystander effect” wasn’t coined until later, the misconceptions in the article still push people towards that direction. Believing that 37 witnesses did nothing makes accepting the bystander effect later easier.
Let me test that position again. Is the value of “refuting” the claim that the Genovese murder PROVES the Bystander Effect your way of getting rid of a bad example so your readers won’t hold its weakness against you?
If so, maybe the best and most dynamic approach, one aspect at a time, would be to compare your two cases side by side. KG: Witnesses didn’t know there were others. GR: Witnesses were in each other’s presence. Etc.