3 terror attacks in the UK in the last 12 weeks have shaken our country. Producing fear in the most rational of people. We are scared, we imagine our children being taken from us as many tragically were in Manchester on the 22nd of May. We empathise with those who have been directly effected, so deeply that we feel directly affected ourselves.
We know, rationally, that these are statistically rare occurrences, there is more risk in crossing the road or driving in a car than there is of suffering in a terror attack. The frequency however, and the news coverage of such attacks have made these imaginings, ideas, fears and deep empathetic understandings vividly available in our minds.
With the up-coming general election just days away the coverage of political information and comments from parliament members of the tragic terror attacks flood not only the news; but social media, office conversation. We see posters in people’s windows, pub garden talk is littered with political trope. Most of us are still astonished that Donald Trump is president of the United States and are heavily aware of our democratic power. The atmosphere is stemming with electricity and uncertainty, and fear.
As humans we are cognitively advanced in many ways, one of the ways humans can process information quickly and effectively is by the use of mental shortcuts. We imagine a typical form of something, a ‘prototype’; it helps us effectively recognise and organise otherwise arbitrary concepts. For instance think of a bird, it is probably a small blackbird or robin shape, yet this is not the extent of all birds that we may think of that don’t fit into the prototype we have, we know that an emu is a bird with its feathers and wings however this is a world away from our immediately available prototype to help us process the information we receive.
These kinds of cognitive processes may give us a skewed view of the world. What is available and vivid in our imaginations may skew our ideas of risk and even make us more likely to be prejudice against people or objects who represent a vividly available prototype of what it is we fear.
The constant repeated images on the news, the repeated use of certain sayings from certain political parties. These being so vividly available in our minds may mean that we are not thinking with any analytical concern, we are not really thinking about what really is the level of risk or the logical way to deal with such threats.
For some people this recent acts of violence and their association with the Muslim religion are hard to differentiate between. These simple associations may fuel someone who is already Islamophobic or prejudice or sway those who are feeling vulnerable or fearful to follow a blind ideology which demonises anyone who may be associated with what is conjured when they thinking of the terrorist prototype. In other words the modern day terrorist stereotype in the UK is that of a Muslim, however the truth is that these are a small group of extremist people who use religion as a justification for their abhorrent acts. Something that has been repeatedly and historically been used as a justification for violence and terror.
Unfortunately due to this rather natural human responses those extremist may be a voice for a group they do not represent. In those minds who have already been poisoned with Islamophobia and fear; extremists who identify with what they already fear simply confirm their fears further. Extremists are self appointed leaders of a group that they simply do not represent. We may be listening to those who speak loudest; but the loudest do not represent the many.
Understanding these powerful cognitive processes and staying mindful may be a way to stay open minded and rational. Film is powerful, images are powerful, sadness, fear on the faces of those we see in film on the news can not only influence our immediate responses but our political attitudes and our prejudices and fears.
With the rise of social media comes a more immediate form of media consumption, we see increasingly viral footage repeatedly which can skew our ideas toward one bias or, we may see many forms of information which can balance our understandings and opinions while basing them on fact.
Film and media is transformative, powerfully so; repeated and vivid imaginings or imagery can create a prejudice or overstated fear of certain people or groups that would not otherwise be there. It is hard to be repeatedly faced with disturbing images that fuel our fears and ideas, it is hard to be reminded of the fears we may be dealing with, bombarded with distressing images and information without forming bias.
Conversely the abundance of small viral films which inform quickly may give us more confidence on our understandings and views, these small films may transform immediately. For instance; showing the humanity in a child’s face; understanding the realities of which refugees are escaping may change the views of those who’s prejudice has been shaped by fear and media prototypes.
Credit: AJ+ on facebook
Credit: Channel 4 News on facebook