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Defending your mental environment in the age of ads

Learning to view campaign ads critically rather than passively is the antidote to mass-media manipulation

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So if you buy generic or store brands to save money, Foley says that you’re exhibiting a “surrender” or “coping” behavior, as it reflects a tolerance for lower “badge value” brands instead of more expensive and self-indulgent ones.

Foley says the marketer’s goal is to create tension in your mind by repeatedly asking you, “Is the surrender worth it?” Their message becomes: “Go ahead and buy generic bathroom cleaner or aluminum foil, but don’t compromise on this.”

An estimated 3,000 advertiser messages crash-land into our conscious minds every single day. That’s usually the reason why you buy things you didn’t intend to buy. But even if you never purchase an advertiser’s products, you’ve probably internalized their skewed values, since humans absorb broadcast messages so easily. We may feel immune to the effects of these ads, but over time they blunt our perceptions of language and logic. The unending streams of manipulative messages eventually pollute our mental environment and clog our cognitive digestion.

In 2014, we’ll witness an unprecedented amount of political campaign advertising in Florida, especially commercials supporting Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election. These ads will serve virtually no informative function, but will still very likely alter the behavior of millions of Floridians.

You can resist these intrusions into your thought space by viewing ads critically instead of passively. Imagine yourself as an anthropologist visiting a new democracy, and note the appeals to emotion (especially fear) and other logical fallacies employed. Think about where the images and sounds were purchased or created, and talk to friends and family members about what you notice in the ads and whether you agree with their messages.

Conversation and community are already essential to mental wellness, but as antidotes to mass-media manipulation, they’re priceless.

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