According to new study, journalists rely on quick, low-effort cognitive processing when posting information to the social media website Twitter in the run-up to the 2016 election.
The study, which has been published in PLOS One, was based on Daniel Kahneman's popularized dual process theory of thought. The theory posits that the human mind operates in two distinct ways: System 1, which is quick, intuitive, and emotional, and System 2, which is slower, logical, and deliberative.
When people encounter a familiar situation or when they don't have to devote much effort to it, System 1 thinking is more helpful. However, research has shown that people tend to rely too heavily on System 1 reasoning, which may lead to errors in judgment.
Through empirical investigations of their word choices across different media, this paper applies cognitive theories to investigate when and how System 1 thinking can be detected in journalists' minds.
When journalists analyze and analyze campaign results, they may engage in System 1 thinking, according to theories of the mind. Of particular interest to the current discussion is whether journalists are more likely to engage in System 1 thinking when they navigate Twitter than when they compose texts and scripts for traditional news media such as newspapers and broadcasts.”
Researchers used a dataset of news articles, broadcast comments, and tweets made by 73 journalists covering the 2016 presidential campaign between November 7, 2015 and November 7, 2016. The dataset contained 9,745,292 words from papers, 237,583 words from broadcast transcripts, and 2,643,593 words from Twitter.
Lee and Hamilton used a text analysis software called Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count to investigate how journalists' language differed across different kinds of media. The program can be used to investigate a wide spectrum of topics, including the author's mental state, the emotions conveyed in a text, and the main themes of a piece of writing.
Researchers found that when writing on Twitter, journalists tended to use more emotional language, compared to when writing in news articles. The reporters' tweets also tended to be more focused on the present, contained more certainty, and used more informal language, while using fewer analytical words and less numerical terms.
When Lee and Hamilton compared tweets to broadcast comments, they found a similar pattern of results. However, there were also some noticeable differences. For example, broadcast comments tended to be more focused on the present and contained fewer analytical words than tweets.
The research concludes that journalists follow System 1 thinking when it comes to reporting on presidential campaigns, and that System 1 thinking may be especially effective when journalists interact with their audience on Twitter in a speedy and personalized manner.
The book, "Anchoring in the past, tweeting from the present: Cognitive bias in journalists' word choices", was published on March 2, 2022.