Are You Seeing What I’m Seeing?: The Impact of Relative Authority on Information Interpretation

Annabelle Jeon, Seamus Kim, Ani Abramian, Liam Fink

We’ve all celebrated Thanksgiving or some other special occasion when people from opposite sides of the aisle come together to celebrate an obligatory meal in the name of family—and chaos ensues. The estranged uncle is spouting conspiracy theories and someone’s aunt is convinced that raising taxes will be the downfall of the economy. As amusing as this hypothetical scenario is, growing polarization is a very real issue that contributes to increased social fragmentation and wider political turmoil. This study aimed to investigate the source of polarization—specifically as a result of differing interpretations of the same information due to different positions of power. Our sample consisted of students and police officers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), all of whom were instructed to watch the same video of a protest in Belarus and interviewed to gauge and compare their linguistic behavior. Our results suggest that differences in power do indeed contribute to different interpretations and subsequently different linguistic behavior as those in power, the police officers, showed a markedly neutral and indifferent response in contrast to those without, the students, who demonstrated a clearly supportive response when given the same information.

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