Why Is It…?

It’s come to my attention that some readers have expressed concerns over my latest column – questioning how the content of my piece related to social psychology. I fully understand and appreciate the validity underlying such questions and have prepared this rebuttal to specifically address these concerns.

The purpose of my column is to stimulate critical thinking, awareness and dialog about matters of social importance. The premise of my latest column (massive animal deaths) addressed the question of why the population would be expected to embrace “fireworks” as a likely explanation – a matter wholly related to the formation of social attitudes, persuasion and strategies of social influence.

Social psychology is the scientific study of how our thoughts, feelings and behaviors influence, and are influenced, by the presence of others. This social “presence” constitutes all types of social stimuli – be they personal, one-on-one interactions or our consistent exposure to mass media communications. When faced with cataclysmic events – people habitually flock to their television sets seeking answers from main-stream news broadcasts. Perceiving news media as sources of social authority – most people accept, on face value, whatever explanations the broadcasters present.

Because the general population relies so heavily on commercial media as their sole source of information – what media reports, or fails to report, has everything to do with the formation of our socially constructed attitudes, opinions and subsequent behaviors. It’s important to emphasize that social psychologists not only study but are employed by mass media to determine how to effectively persuade, control and manipulate public opinion. In the words of renowned social psychologist, Elliot Aronson, addressing the ways in which media employs social propaganda in order to guide public sentiment, he writes, “selective emphasis puts media in the position of determining subsequent events – not simply reporting them” (The Social Animal, 2008, 66).

At least one reader, to my knowledge, voiced concerns that my column sensationalized a conspiratorial tone in reference to covert operations intended to conceal certain truths from the general population. However, the statements in my column were neither sensationalistic nor opinion based. Since the passing of the Freedom of Information Act, numerous former and retired, high ranking governmental and military officials have come forward with testimony that documents a variety of covert operations that are strictly hidden from the public eye (see The Disclosure Conference, CNN, September, 2010).

I am not one to utilize my column for the purpose of promoting my own personal views or agendas – but rather carefully and thoroughly research published evidence from a variety of scientific and legitimate sources. Due to my word limitation and ease of readability – I have opted to omit references – but rest assured, my citations are freely and readily available to any reader upon request.

From a social psychological standpoint, it’s not at all surprising that some readers may have reacted strongly to my last column. After all, the issues raised were, indeed, disconcerting. When faced with information that conflicts with one’s adopted belief system, most will react with cognitive dissonance (the psychological discomfort generated by a conflict between the information at hand and what one has come to accept as reality).

As mentioned in previous columns, those finding themselves in a dissonant state must act to bring closure to contradictory perceptions. According to social psychological findings, individuals may achieve this psychological closure in one of two ways: 1) they can engage in critical analysis and personal investigation of the facts in order to re-evaluate their view of the world, or 2) they can discredit the source of the information that triggered their feelings of dissonance (in other words, kill the messenger).

In many ways, it would be far more psychologically palatable to conclude that the information in my column was nothing more than personal rhetoric. But for those who are in sincere pursuit of the facts concerning the geophysical technology that I referenced, the evidence that I cited can be found on recent National Public Radio programs, The History and Science channels, and a wide variety of published scientific books and internet sources.

I acknowledge and respect the intellectual integrity of this readership, and by way of this realization, endeavor to offer perspectives that stimulate a thoughtful, critical and personal investigation into the events that impact our social existence. At the end of the day, we each have a choice. We may either engage in our own mindful and effortful investigation of the events that impact our lives – or – we can flip on the nightly news and accept the “spin-du-jour.”

“Why Is It…?” was designed by Dr. Steiner to address readers’ questions about human behavior from a social psychological perspective in order to inform and stimulate dialogue about the ways in which our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are influenced by the presence of other people. Dr. Steiner holds a Ph.D. in Applied Social Psychology. In addition to working as a university educator over the last 17 years, she conducts individual and group consultations in matters of social relationships and behavior. Readers are invited to submit their questions anonymously in one paragraph or less to Dr. Steiner at [email protected].