From: Paul Marsden (
Date: Mon Jan 07 2002 - 19:03:42 GMT

  • Next message: Kenneth Van Oost: "Fw: playing at suicide"

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    Subject: Re: CRASH CONTAGION
    Date: Mon, 7 Jan 2002 19:03:42 -0000
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    Vincent wrote:

    >I wondered how long it would take Paul and others to make this comment. A
    >few problems with it though.

    Likewise - I was expecting your response ;-) we should audition for the
    methodology section in undergrad sociology text books...

    >First is the assumption of a causal
    >relationship between widespread dissemination of Sep 11 attacks and this
    >boy's actions- is there any evidence yet to confirm that this boy heard
    >about bin laden through the media, as opposed to friends and family etc
    >(teenagers are notoriously low consumers of news- including in the US), and
    >thus open to interpersonal influence.

    Well, of course it is possible that friends/family persuaded or coerced him
    into this suicide...

    >Saturation coverage is no answer to
    >this, because the second problem then emerges- such a view ignores why many
    >others haven't done this.

    No it doesn't - the processes of suggestion and disinhibition that underpin
    the psychology of contagion explicitly deal with this: Exposure may be a
    contributory factor to suicide only incases where there is severe prior
    unresolved distress where people use the actions, and the results of those
    actions, of those around them to inform their own actions.

    >In other words if it is merely the dissemination
    >of such actions that cause them to be imitated by others why haven't we
    >more attacks, especially given the level of coverage globally?

    I did not and would not want to be associated with such a one dimensional
    crude cause-effect relationship. People use experience of others to inform
    their action within a complex nexus of influence made up of previous
    experience, and social influence.

    >With Phillips-like research, in which such views are rooted, the 100%
    >increase in people flying a plane into a building deliberately would be
    >proof of cause and effect, but I see no evidence of this. Paul predicted
    >such copy-cat attempts pretty soon after the original attack, but several
    >months on there has been this one case. How long does media coverage
    >resonate with audiences with contagious effect?

    I'm not suggesting some crude and outdated hypodermic model - contagion does
    not have to be immediate - it is simply the influence of exposure in the
    absence of percieved intent to influence.

    >In other words what is the
    >period in which such contagions remain powerful? Is it only on immediate
    >exposure, does it seep into people to reemerge weeks, months, years later
    >what? There's no coherence to this kind of contagion idea to my mind.

    It seems entirely coherent to me: We are influenced by the actions of those
    around us - and contagion occurs when this influence happens without the
    perception of intent to influence, and is especially likely to occur in
    cases where the individual is experiencing some antecdent internal
    approach-avoidance conflict to committing some such act

    >This poor young lad obviously had particular problems that led to this. He
    >also had access to flying lessons, and some ability to fly a plane.

    Of course he did...

    >One of
    >the problems with contagion theories is the problem of context- from social
    >ones (e.g. why most people don't go on killing sprees after watching
    >Born Killers- we know it's wrong, or at least that we'd probably get
    >caught), to logistical ones (in this case getting a plane, and having a
    >skyscraper to hit).

    Precisely becasue they are not in some prior state of internal
    approach-avoidance conflict to committing some such act

    >On a mor polemical note, again the risk of this kind of argument- even
    >its clear relevance to memetic debates- is not seen by its proponents. What
    >solution is there, IF such things are being caused by information
    >dissemination? There is only one, something both US networks and the US
    >public (if the Pew Center surveys are anything to go by) agree with,
    >censorship. Yet censorship of al-jazeera didn't stop this lad.

    Nope, I disagree - the media could reduce the liklihood of contagion by bein
    g more responsible and communicating such events without hype, spin,
    sensation and repetition. Simply by reporting the risk of contagion has
    been shown to have a innoculatory effect on people. This is not censorhip

    >Oh and a belated happy new year everyone!

    And to you too!

    This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)

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