Thursday, April 05, 2007

fictional schema

One of the challenges that we face when working in the real world is that people have all kinds of experiences in a variety of contexts. Because schema develop unconsciously in a non-differentiated way, except when there is a specific reason to differentiate them. So if we think of a reason to differentiate after the fact, it is too late, even when the aggregation directly violates a task objective.

That is a complicated way to describe the following example. When people watch Law and Order, the develop an opinion of Fred Thompson's character. On the show, he is strong, tough on crime, and several other good qualities. But of course, these are written by the scriptwriters and director, not Fred himself. But since viewers only know him as the character, they have no reason to have two schemas of him, one of the character's attributes and one of his real attributes.

But now that he is running for president (his real person), it is too late for people to associate the older episodic memories with "fictional" and the new ones with "presidential candidates." They can when they concentrate on it, but most people generate gut instincts without this kind of concentration. In fact, that's what makes it a gut instinct.

In studies of this kind of situation, people will attribute the fake qualities to the real person when asked to describe the real person. When pushed to report how they know, they will try hard to think of real events, and failing this, stretch the truth until something matches. This is not an intentional deception, but a natural, unconscious, brain function.

So in effect, people will be evaluating his qualifications for president based on his Law and Order characteristics.

I even find myself doing that. I like the show and I like his character on it. On the other hand, I don't like his real politics (he actually was a Senator from Tennessee for 8 years). But when I see him, I can't help but like him because of his character. Even though I know the difference.

I guess it doesn't really matter though. People get elected for a lot worse reasons than that.