As political conversations change on the net, Chloe Wittenberg PhD ’23 is learning how the facts People in america consume designs their attitudes and beliefs. An MIT postdoc in political science who not long ago acquired her doctorate at the Institute, Wittenberg is fascinated in evaluating the persuasive powers of video clip-primarily based political content to textual content-based written content. As Us residents significantly switch to social media platforms like YouTube and TikTok for their information, her function normally takes on larger urgency.
“The American political process is started on the notion of an informed, engaged general public, so we really should attempt to understand both of those what citizens assume and how they occur to these conclusions,” says Wittenberg.
By way of initial surveys and experiments, Wittenberg explores what kinds of political articles People discover arresting — and convincing. “As info units keep on to transform and evolve, it is increasingly significant for political experts to take stock of the impacts of distinctive forms of political content on community belief,” she says.
Details tell the tale
Wittenberg came to MIT in 2017, she states, to teach in “rigorous and slicing-edge methods” that would support her trace the role of the media in shaping political sights. She found her investigation household in the MIT Political Experiments Investigation Lab, directed by Adam J. Berinsky, professor of political science.
“Political beliefs and views are the item of complicated, social processes,” she claims. “Survey and experimental approaches can aid us dig deeper into these procedures to extract new and actionable insights.”
In the deal with of soaring misinformation and political polarization, Wittenberg desired to know “where political beliefs appear from in the initial put.” She observed social science answers that pointed to “features of the content by itself, these kinds of as its topic, slant, or framing” plausible, but incomplete. This prompted her to consider not just what media people today ended up consuming — but also how they had been consuming this facts.
As she started pursuing these concerns, Wittenberg turned fascinated in a rising phenomenon: deepfakes, artificial video clips that blur the line in between truth and fiction. A well known consensus was swiftly emerging that deepfakes “posed a new, unparalleled risk, simply because the engineering could be uniquely able of shaping people’s attitudes and beliefs,” she states. But that assumed that movie itself was inherently powerful, capable of greater persuasion than other varieties of data, these kinds of as text. Was it definitely? Wittenberg experienced discovered her dissertation subject matter.
Immersive versus persuasive
As a result of a collection of assignments, Wittenberg started testing common assumptions about video’s singular sway as a channel for political persuasion. In conducting this function, she carefully collaborated with Berinsky, as perfectly as colleagues outside the house of political science these kinds of as David G. Rand, the Erwin H. Schell Professor and Professor of Management Science and Mind and Cognitive Sciences, and Ben M. Tappin, a exploration affiliate at Rand’s Human Cooperation Lab and an Early Vocation Fellow at the Leverhulme Believe in.
Her 1st project, finished in partnership with Berinsky, Rand, and Tappin, investigated the results of presenting political information in the sort of both the authentic movie or a text-primarily based transcript of the video clip. Throughout two complementary survey experiments involving more than 7,500 Us citizens, Wittenberg and her co-authors examined responses to just about 75 professionally made political commercials and on-line news movies, spanning this sort of topics as local climate transform, gun handle, profits inequality, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Their assessment disclosed that respondents perceived films as a great deal far more credible than text, but ended up only slightly more probable to improve their attitudes and actions in response to these video clips.
“Just because online video looks a lot more credible than text does not signify it is extra persuasive,” suggests Wittenberg. “Seeing may perhaps be believing, but it does not always transform people’s minds.”
Her subsequent end was deciding whether or not the alterations in mind-set effected by both of those video clip and textual content persisted over time. In a two-section experiment with more than 2,000 Individuals, Wittenberg observed that political video and textual content messaging functioned similarly properly in shifting respondents’ policy opinions — both of those immediately and a number of times later. “Although the consequences of movie and text each eroded a bit about time, there were being virtually no dissimilarities involving these two styles of media in both portion of the study,” she states. “This upends the assumption that movie will make men and women extra receptive to political information in the two the brief and prolonged expression.”
Drawing a bead on perception
Wittenberg has very long been curious about how people come to maintain powerful attitudes about political problems. All through her undergraduate reports at Swarthmore University, coursework in political science and psychology, she says, “opened my eyes to a complete new way of comprehension political perception techniques.”
While at Swarthmore, she participated in an interdisciplinary program devoted to knowledge the roots of peace and conflict through a political, psychological, social, and cultural lens. Her thesis appeared at how persons sort views about conflicts overseas and examined the part of media in shaping those viewpoints. To do so, she merged laboratory experiments with in-depth text investigation to help her probe the connections in between media narratives and community opinion.
“Through this get the job done, I realized that I genuinely loved the course of action of puzzling through complex theoretical queries,” she claims. “It also bolstered to me the relevance of multidisciplinary ways to social science investigate, which I have continued to use all through my time at MIT.”
Immediately after a few years doing the job as a exploration analyst at the Centre for Helpful Philanthropy in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in which she honed her study style and design and analysis skills, Wittenberg made the decision to return to an tutorial location “to progress her information of greatest tactics in public opinion analysis.”
The persuasive advantage
In the last phase of her dissertation, which she defended very last summer months, Wittenberg shifted concentrate. Relatively than weighing the electrical power of video clip compared to text in altering people’s political attitudes, she investigated the chance “that video’s persuasive advantage” could lie in its unequalled ability to capture and keep interest. In first reports, she finds that men and women are certainly captivated by and remarkably very likely to interact with political movies — but go on to come across standard political media, such as news articles or blog posts, compelling.
Wittenberg, who continues her perform as a postdoc in the Section of Political Science, believes that a nuanced knowledge of community responses to diverse sorts of political messaging could help advise debates about exceptional strategies for political persuasion. “My analysis has clear, sensible implications for strategies and advocacy groups in search of to sway community assist on political topics,” she states. Nevertheless, she thinks her get the job done can also give far more typical insights about the purpose of social media in American politics. “There are a lot of various directions to go with this exploration, which is interesting.”