How people are manipulated by sleazy lies

Obama misleading clip [BPSDB] Contrary to what many people believe, the camera and its still image always lie. Our visual perception of the world depends on a jerky series of images that the brain interprets as continual motion. This is especially important as we interpret other people’s faces, which are expressive through their unending mobility.

Stop that motion through the mechanism of a photograph, and we are left with something, motionless, flat and two-dimensional, that we cannot help but try to interpret as if it were part of the moving three-dimensional world. Wise people realise that they are being deceived and deliberately try to treat the impression with scepticism derived from their knowledge of the world and the weaknesses of the human eye and brain. But these weaknesses are easily exploited by the unscrupulous when the people viewing the picture are unwary. I have seen pictures taken of audience members at political party conferences showing fleeting facial expressions that are then “interpreted” to make implications about the relationship between the listener and the speaker.

A spectacular illustration of this manipulation is a recent still from a video taken of President Barack Obama, reported here by Angry Mob and discussed by the MSNBC reporters in the embedded video. Observe how fast the steps of the action take place, and how the moving scene leaves no room for the misinterpretation that seems almost obvious from the still. It is not just that the photo completely deceives us about the situation, but that the still was clearly selected from the original video to give a false interpretation.

The human brain is prone to cognitive errors, not only in interpreting visual information, but in processing other kinds of data too. It is noteworthy that the kind of sources actively promoting this lie are the kind that are likely to use other cognitive errors in order to promote denial of the existence of man-made global warming, a phenomenon firmly established by scientific research. Some of this manipulation is undoubtedly deliberate, but in most cases the misinformation is passed on by people who themselves are willingly and unsceptically manipulated, because it agrees with what they want to believe.