Here’s some interesting new research from a study of the psychology behind smear campaigns, led by Michigan State. It examined the rising numbers of people who believe the falsehood that President Obama is a Muslim. The findings indicate that people are more likely to accept such false representations, both consciously and unconsciously, when they are reminded of ways in which Obama is different from them — whether from racial, social class or other differences, according to Spee Kosloff and his colleagues from several other universities, who conducted the study.
“Careless or biased media outlets are largely responsible for the propagation of these falsehoods, which catch on like wildfire,” said Kosloff. ”And then social differences can motivate acceptance of these lies.”
“When people are unsatisfied with the president — whether it’s the way he’s handling the economy, health care or Afghanistan — our research suggests that this only fuels their readiness to accept untrue rumors,” Kosloff said. ”As his job rating goes down, suggesting that people feel like he’s not ideologically on their side, we see an increase in this irrational belief that he’s a Muslim,” he added. “Unfortunately, in America, many people dislike Muslims so they’ll label Obama as Muslim when they feel different from him.”
The findings are reported in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. The acceptance of falsehoods is particularly relevant because a Pew Research Center poll in August found that 18 percent of Americans believe Obama is a Muslim — up from 11 percent in March 2009 — even though he’s a practicing Christian.
A complete summary of the research is available in Science Daily.