Tuesday, April 25, 2006

More Differences in Beliefs

A few years ago, Matt Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro examined perceptions of the US among residents of nine predominantly Muslim countries in their paper, "Media, Education, and Anti-Americanism in the Muslim World." The document how beliefs vary across these areas focusing primarily on the relationship between media exposure and education and anti-American views. They find:

We first examine how individuals' overall quantity of media use and years of education relate to the accuracy of their beliefs, as well as to their favorability toward the United States. We find no effect of overall media use and at best a weak effect of total education. We then ask how these relationships differ among different media -- specifically the satellite networks Al Jazeera and CNN International -- and among education systems with different characteristics. We find that the effects of these specific information sources appear to be strong and widely divergent.

These results suggest that access to information itself is frequently not the source of variation in beliefs. How the information is presented and how that relates to what individuals "want" to hear plays an important role.

If you want to see these differences in less abstract, more "real" context, I highly recommend "Control Room." This film went behind the scenes at Al-Jazera during the lead up to and initial invasion of Iraq. It is a fascinating depiction of how people watching the same events can have massively different views of what is going on (and of the power of politicians and the media to shape those beliefs).

(It is also just interesting to watch a time capsule of that period from today's perspective.)

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