Why Propaganda is Dangerous

Why Propaganda is Dangerous

The Sleeper Effect and the Jar in Jargon

KC Poe
KC Poe

Propaganda is dangerous because it is the most memorable and therefore most likely to shape people's perspectives. According to psychologists, the sleeper effect is defined as a message being more persuasive over time when it comes from a low-credibility source. Initially, a person would believe a message to be more persuasive from a high-credibility source. However, over time, messages from high-credibility sources are less persuasive and forgotten in comparison to messages from low-credibility sources.

At first, this may not make sense. Why would a message from a high-credibility source be forgotten? Why would a message from a low-credibility source become more believable over time? What does this imply about people?

The reason for this is because of the language used in both messages. Language will always trump ethos. According to the basic concepts of persuasion, ethos is the belief in the credibility of the source. The more credible the source, the more likely we should be persuaded. Although this is true initially, language will overpower ethos. The reason for this is because we tend to disregard authors and names associated with a concept. We are more likely to remember a concept we learned in class instead of the famous person who made up that concept. We remember more ideas than we remember where those ideas originated.

A high-credibility source will feature jargon that although may be capable of being understood by the general population, the jargon is not a natural part of their environment. For instance, most people know what water is, but if you called it dihydrogen monoxide, half of your audience may not know what you are referring to.

Technically, both dihydrogen monoxide and water are acceptable names, but most people are familiar with the name "water." A high-credibility source may use "dihydrogen monoxide" when referring to water, but a low-credibility source would most likely use the term "water."

Initially, the audience will be in awe of the professionals for their jargon in the high-credibility source and believe the high-credibility source's message. However, since most of the audience does not either know that "dihydrogen monoxide" is water's chemical name and also does not daily hear the chemical name, the message from the high-credibility source will not be as memorable. What is most memorable is most familiar. Therefore, the message from the low-credibility source will be remembered while the source itself will be forgotten. This is the danger of propaganda.

Most professionals/high-credibility sources do not publish propaganda because propaganda goes against their professional and ethical principles. Therefore, propaganda will rarely be written with jargon. Instead, propaganda is written in the most simplistic terms that almost anyone can understand. Because we are more likely to forget our sources over time AND propaganda is written in the most simplistic terms, it is likely to become more memorable over time.

However, this should not imply that all high-credibility sources should "dumb themselves down" by shaping their language to be just as simplistic and lacking in the jargon as the language of low-credibility sources. We should also not assume that just because an article or message written with a small percentage of jargon should automatically originate from a high-credibility source. Low-credibility sources are capable of using jargon, too, but they normally use it to the point where the jargon is misused within the context.

The sleeper effect implies that what is most memorable is normally correlated with what is most familiar, especially our language. Our perspectives are shaped by the messages that are imprinted upon our memories, which implies that what generally makes a stronger impression is the message instead of the source of the message. This implies that ethos is not as strong as it could be, and perhaps a fourth dimension should be added to ethos, pathos, and logos paradigm of persuasion: memorability. Conciseness is more important than ethos when it comes to persuasive messages.

This is important in regards to becoming more defensive against false messages that are meant to persuade the audience of what a specific party wants them to think as opposed to what the truth is. Our perspectives should be shaped by the truth, not a false fantasy made by people who want power over others.

By the way, the jar cover photo is the jar in jargon. It's a pun, you are welcome.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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