The Wisdom of Wikipedia

Hi Folks! Just found this great Wikipedia entry. I hadn’t heard of “Mean World Syndrome” before, but it really makes sense! It’s almost a relief to have a name to give the ramped up fear so many parents feel. — Lenore

Mean World Syndrome (via Wikipedia)

Mean World Syndrome is a phenomenon where the violence-related content of mass media convinces viewers that the world is more dangerous than it actually is, and prompts a desire for more protection than is warranted by any actual threat.[1] Mean World Syndrome is one of the main conclusions of cultivation theory. The term was coined by George Gerbner, a pioneer researcher on the effects of television on society, when he noted that people who watched a large amount of television tended to think of the world as an intimidating and unforgiving place.[2]

Individuals who watch television infrequently and adolescents who talk to their parents about reality are said to have a more accurate view of the real world than those who do not, and they are able to more accurately assess their vulnerability to violence. They also tend to have a wider variety of beliefs and attitudes.[3]

27 Responses

  1. It would be nice if this article actually linked to the wikipedia page you’re talking about. : )

  2. This is a very real, and sad, phenomenon. I am a medic and as such, I deal with a wide variety of people. The “unfavourables” (ie: drunks, homeless, drug addicts, disabled, etc…) usually cause people to be uneasy when they are in public spaces. After dealing with them for many years, and often the same core group, I’ve come to the conclusion that the vast majority of said individuals are nice, well meaning people. Unfortunately, the media has portrayed them in a manner that would have been suitable to the Black Widow spider. Sad for us, even more so for them.

  3. I ran across a similar finding the other day:

    Apparently a lot of research is starting to show that between politicians and the media, Americans are being lead to believe a non-reality. I hate to say it but Karl Rove was right, if you tell someone something long enough, they will perceive it as the truth.

  4. snarkyFish, The article does link to the Wikipedia entry, just click on the “Mean World Syndrome” link at the top of the post.

    This is really interesting, I’d be interested to see more about the research. It certainly makes sense. Always good to find more arguments for talking to your kids about the real world.

  5. Kristin,
    It didn’t at the time of my comment.

  6. Re: Mean World Syndrome

    Lenore, and everybody.

    Just remember, all these Syndromes and Disorders
    are categories created by people, not God.

    The DSM – when it was first published in 1952, was a very thin booklet. ( Today it’s an Obese Book that should go on a diet ) Since the medical community began “medicalizing” Everyday Life, everyone can now find a Disorder or Syndrome for everyone. According to them we’re all sick.

    Once upon a time, we knew that the word NORMAL covered a range of behaviors. Today nobody is normal.

  7. Very good and accurate point, Medicalization. Some days I think my son might have a little ADD, but then I realize that… that’s a boy for you!!! When I pay attention to the fact that he’s super smart and does his school work and participates in gymnastics without a hitch – I realize that the only one fitting him with a “syndrome” is me. And I promptly lay off. 🙂

    Very good point.

  8. Medicalization, so true. I once had a “licensed practitioner” diagnose a mom Polyanna Syndrome since there was nothing wrong & mom felt their child was just developing in their own way. He felt there MUST be some pathology since a referral was issued. This same “psychologist” felt the child had some serious psychiatric syndrome (in fact the child did not, he was just spirited & bored with mundane work. The child’s pedi recommended more outside time & sunshine. )

  9. I remember when I was in journalism school there was this hot new trend called “civic journalism” whereby the point was to try to go out there and report the good stuff, stuff that helped the community, and not just report on whatever minority is committing a crime. I wonder whatever happened of that idea? I think a lot of people are moving towards focusing more on the good, and I’d like to keep seeing that. Yay for more accurate views of the world!


  10. This is something I noticed when I used to care for elderly home-bound people. These people who’s main contact with the outside world came from us helpers and TV. They were scared the world was coming to an end with all the violence they saw on the news and shows.

    I, for one, refuse to live in a culture of fear. My refusal butted heads with a humane society in a neighboring town-the woman told me she would deny any application for pet adoption where the animal would be kept outside because people are happy to poison or mutilate your dog, plus they got out of the yard and got to their facility some how!

    I know that the majority of people walking by my house or in my neighborhood have no interested in poisoning my dog or abducting my child.

  11. That is a very useful concept, and a useful way of explaining this. Thank you!

    If anyone finds any additional links, I hope they’ll share them.

    (Also: Fun meeting you in Tucson, Lenore. Hope you have a good trip back to NY!)

  12. […] The Wisdom of Wikipedia « FreeRangeKids […]

  13. I almost agree with this. It’s not about watching TV, it’s about watching so-called “NEWS”. I watch way too much TV, but almost never watch the news, and I can’t think of anything I’m too freaked out about. Except clowns. 😉

  14. Sam: The most interesting result I noticed in the Gallup poll was that most people considered crime to be a serious problem nationwide, but not in their own communities. There’s definitely a common psychological phenomenon at work here, but I’m not sure of the name. You can also see it in how most Americans regard Congress as three statesmen and 532 scoundrels, most people believe they work harder than their co-workers, and just about anybody who’s participated on a team (other than an athletic team, for some reason) remembers that they did nearly all the work while the other members slacked.

    I suppose it’s just a special case of self-serving bias, probably related to Lake Wobegon effect.

  15. And yet when I say I have no TV, people act like I’m the crazy one, LOL.

    I notice it myself. The less time I spend watching commercials, reading and watching and listening to news, the calmer and happier I am. I need to know what is going on in my town and school district. I care about the less fortunate, and try to donate to worthy causes. But hearing every detail about every murder in every town is completely useless to me. At best, I am a voyeur helping the media profit off someone else’s tragedy. At worst, I start to see things in the shadows everywhere. Unplug and live.

  16. @ Medicalization and Nicola

    OMG! So true!
    Nicola, your story reminded me again of an interaction I had with an acquaintance in the bookstore when my grandson was about a year and a half.
    I ran into this woman, she asked how the grandbaby was, I replied, “He’s great! He’s 19 months old, an been walking for 10 of ’em!”
    Her reply?
    “ADD!!! Walking before 10 months is a PRIME predictor of ADD! Get him tested EARLY!!!”
    Then, when I asked about her oldest daughter (about 23 at the time I think), the reply was,
    “Oh, she just received a devastating diagnoses.” And went on to elaborate on all the ills and symptoms she and her girls have.
    The woman is a damn diagnosis addict. That is my conclusion.

    And yes, my grandson is a very very very very busy almost-four-year-old. But his attention span is just fine, thank you, and he’s very very bright. But every now and again, when he’s just running in circles, or being particularly defiant, I hear her. “ADD!!!”


  17. @ebohlman

    That description just perfectly illustrated my 9yo daughter. She is driving me insane lately. We got into it tonight and she was screaming about how she has to do EVERYTHING around here and it’s not fair and I never yell at her siblings and make them do everything. Never mind I was asking her to pick up a mess that she, and she alone, made and that her brother and sisters (who are all younger) pick up every day. I don’t yell at them because they do it when I ask them to and don’t throw tantrums.

    In her mind she is doing it all when really she is doing next to nothing or just cleaning up after herself. Sigh. It was a bad night.

    As for the article:
    very good point. The people I see this most applying to are people I know that are obsessed with crime shows like CSI and Law & Order. They start to believe there are rapists and abductors on every corner, in every family. They trust no one, sometimes not even their own spouses.

    I heard one woman say she NEVER opens the door to a man when her husband isn’t home. EVER. And she thinks any woman that does is risking her family’s life because that person “could” be a killer. this only applies to men because women are never killers…obviously. Of course one woman replied with she never answer the door at all when she is home with just the kids and also keeps all doors and windows locked at all time. They breathe nothing but recycled air all year round. These people live out in the suburbs of middle America not in the ghetto.

    In another conversation I saw one woman say she would never let her husband change their infant daughter’s diaper because that’s sick and he should never see their daughter naked and all men, even father’s, are potential child rapists. I can’t imagine living with that much paranoia and fear.

    And I’m considered the insane, unstable mom because our front door is always unlocked or wide open (in the summer) and my kids are outside enjoying the fresh air while I’m relaxing at my computer (enjoying the relative peace…for the whole 10 minutes it lasts, lol) and I don’t worry about the UPS guy attacking me as soon as I peek out the door.

    I don’t watch the news and I stopped watching CSI years ago when it started making me nervous to be alone at night…not because I actually thought anything was going to happen but I have a very active imagination and it would go wild once the lights were off. I stick mostly to sci-fi and humorous shows. And Lost. Most everything I watch is so out-there you know it won’t happen.

    A little video for those that watch the news!

  19. Jen Connelly – it’s funny that you mention CSI.

    I’m a huge fan of Criminal Minds, but I just about blew my top over their episode last week. It was about a woman who worked with a team to kidnap children. The very beginning of the show had a mom, dad, and two kids at a local carnival. Dad and son went to get food while mom & daughter waited for the pony rides. A woman ran by screaming, mom turns her head (and that’s it), and five seconds later when she turns back around, her daughter, who was just standing at her side, is missing. We’re supposed to believe that a strange man can snatch your child six inches away from you without you noticing? Talk about spreading fear & hysteria!!!

    The sad thing is, when discussing the episode with other students in my Criminology class, they looked skeptical when I criticized the show for perpetuating nothing by hysterical myths. People think that we Free-Range parents are overexaggerating when we say that media affects attitudes towards parenting, but I see living, breathing proof of it every day. The really scary part is that unlike me, most of those kids are taking the class because it’s required, as most of them plan to go into law enforcement careers. Ten years from now, we’ll have police running around that are every bit as paranoid as most parents are today.

    That’s one reason why it’s so important to spread facts at every opportunity, as Lenore suggests. In order to get the Free-Range movement into gear, we have to proactive!

    (So sorry for the rant. My finals-addled brain must be getting carried away.) 🙂

  20. Medicalization et. al. – Although I completely agree that there is too much emphasis on everything being a disorder (an emphasis partly created, I think, by the quick-fix lawyer society that doesn’t like to accept responsibility), I feel compelled to point out that the extensive DSM does have some significant advantages, especially in prodding diligent psychologists to treating actual disorders as spectrums rather than black/white issues. It also helps us to recognize certain maladaptive behaviors as treatable, rather than just weird. I’m not suggesting that you don’t know that BTW, I just felt the need to point it out in case other readers are unfamiliar with those points.

    I definitely notice a lot of the “mean society” thing amongst friends. Interestingly, in my experience the correlation is strongest between friends that love shows like CSI, and weaker amongst those who get their TV violence from science fiction. Probably that’s due to the obvious lack of realism in science fiction, but I think it’s a factor worth looking into as far as TV violence goes. As a lover of good television, some of which happens to be violent, I don’t like the idea of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The local news in area, which is obsessed in equal parts with gore and extremely vapid “human interest” stories*, neither of which provide useful or relevant information, is free to get the axe IMO.

    *My local news once ran a five minute segment on “the Tooth Fairy” — aka some poor actress — visiting an elementary school to talk about how small children should obsessively floss. Some might argue that it makes a nice change from the violence, but I think there are a lot better ways of doing it than documenting mundane, everyday elementary school occurrences.

  21. Okay, the CSI thing also got me thinking of the first episode I saw of one of my favourite shows — the UK version of Life on Mars. In case you don’t know, it’s a criminal investigation type show (in the seventies! With surrealism!), and the first episode I saw featured a guy who appeared to have been brutally attacked and killed at the factory he worked at. After going through all the possible leads and motives for murder, they eventually work out that the guy was killed in a machinery accident. I’m not saying that it’s great to promote the dangers of machinery, or anything. It just really hit me at the time because every other crime show I have ever seen involves terrifying random murder, and usually sociopathic serial killers, every episode. Half the reason I kept tuning in after that was that I thought “this is a show that is willing to break the mold and capable of making a story interesting without resorting to cheap fear tactics.” (The other half of the reason, as it happens, is that the lead actor is incredibly pretty, but that’s probably irrelevant. ;D)

  22. Well, I don’t think that identifying something and giving a name to it is necessarily “medicalization,” either. I agree that medicalizing everything is bad, but saying “Hey, this is a common pattern of behavior, let’s give it a name so we can talk about it more conveniently and understand each other” doesn’t imply you’re medicalizing it.

  23. They’re just trying to scare Lorraine:

    “‘Lorraine’ Needs Our Help: How and Why Local TV News Tries to Scare Women”

  24. Wow…this is an intense conversation. I try to make the choices for my family and 6 yr old son that I consider an “enlightened” dad would make. He is unvaccinated, we try to give him as much freedom as we can stand (lol), we don’t let him watch TV…

    But there it is. The fear is everywhere. How do you reconcile it? For me, it’s about self awareness. We can’t avoid the fearful thoughts because they are currently part of the fabric of consciousness of society right now…they’re the water we all swim in. And that constant, pervasive vibration of fear will get into your bones if you aren’t vigilant. That’s what I hear when Jen talks about these women who won’t open their doors.

    Consciousness creates reality. The Law of Attraction is real. But it takes real effort to stay connected to a vibration of Love/Peace/Trust in this world. If you find yourself having constant thoughts of abduction or the like, I would certainly suggest making whatever effort necessary to shift your thinking. But ya know what? While those thoughts are running rampant, I’d also suggest keeping a little closer watch on your kids. Sometimes you really can’t be too careful.

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  26. I suppose it’s just a special case of self-serving bias, probably related to Lake Wobegon effect.

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