Total information war

Perhaps one of the most important articles yet published on military infowar, propaganda, media influence and PSYOPs has appeared online.

Called ‘Military Social Influence in the Global Information Environment: A Civilian Primer’ – the piece is written by psychologist Sarah King who outlines the theory and practice of US information warfare as it stands today.

Although the piece gives a fascinating and sometimes jaw dropping account of US information operations (replete with examples) it serves as an essential general introduction to how military thinking has moved on from assuming wars are fought with troops on the ground to conceptualising conflict as inseparable from its social impact.

A more prominent view among information warriors is that changes in information, technology, and social influence capabilities have actually transformed the terms of war. War between standing armies of nation-states is seen as increasingly unlikely, both because the United States is an unmatched military superpower and because damage that would result from use of modern physical weapon systems is deemed intolerable.

Our military’s enemies, experts predict, are most likely to be small, rogue groups who attempt to prevail by winning popular support and undermining U.S. political will for war. The argument here is that in most modern war, physical battles, if they exist, will be for the purpose of defining psychological battlespace.

What’s striking is the effort to dominate all aspects of the ‘information sphere’ – from public opinion, to news coverage, to acceptance on the ground, to shaping the general cultural concept of the country’s military.

The many examples given of how this has been attempted during the recent and ongoing conflict are completely fascinating.

If you only ever read one article on ‘information ops’ make it this one. It’s online and open-access with expert commentary due to appear during the year.

Link to excellent InfoWar article (thanks Stephan!).

Pink fluffy cat ears – controlled by brain waves

Wired UK have documented how another barrier in the fashion revolution has come crashing down. A Japanese company called Neurowear have created pink brainwave-controlled cat ears for humans.

The company claim that they stand up when you concentrate and lay flat when you relax.

However, as the ears almost certainly pick up on different EEG frequencies which aren’t directly tied to mental states it probably means that they move around largely of their own free will while you have a vague sense of controlling them.

But never mind, they’re an important fashion advance and that’s all that matters.

The cat ear product, called “necomimi” is a novelty hair band that is worn in the normal way but features sensors that pick up on brain signals and convert them into visible actions — in this case by wiggling the cat ears.

The ears twitch through a range of different positions, which correspond to different brain activity. So when you concentrate, the ears point upwards and when you relax the ears flop down and forwards. The result is a kick-ass pair of ears that will make everyone at the furry convention / fancy dress party jealous.

The video is priceless by the way.

Link to Wired UK on brainwave cat ears for humans (via @AutoDespair).

Why the truth will out but doesn’t sink in

Bin Laden used a woman as a human shield and fired at the commando team sent to kill him – at least according to the first reports. These have just been corrected to say he was unarmed and standing alone, but the retractions follow a useful pattern – media friendly version first, accurate version later – because the updates make little impact on our beliefs.

In this particular case, I can’t speculate why the corrections came as they did. Maybe it was genuinely the ‘fog of war’ that led to mistaken early reports, but the fact that the media friendly version almost always appears first in accounts of war is likely, at least sometimes, to be a deliberate strategy.

Research shows that even when news reports have been retracted, and we are aware of the retraction, our beliefs are largely based on the initial erroneous version of the story. This is particularly true when we are motivated to approve of the initial account.

Psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky has been studying this effect for several years and not just with abstract test material. Here’s a summary of his study study on retracted reports of the Iraq war:

Media coverage of the 2003 Iraq War frequently contained corrections and retractions of earlier information. For example, claims that Iraqi forces executed coalition prisoners of war after they surrendered were retracted the day after the claims were made. Similarly, tentative initial reports about the discovery of weapons of mass destruction were all later disconfirmed.

We investigated the effects of these retractions and disconfirmations on people’s memory for and beliefs about war-related events in two coalition countries (Australia and the United States) and one country that opposed the war (Germany). Participants were queried about (a) true events, (b) events initially presented as fact but subsequently retracted, and (c) fictional events.

Participants in the United States did not show sensitivity to the correction of misinformation, whereas participants in Australia and Germany discounted corrected misinformation. Our results are consistent with previous findings in that the differences between samples reflect greater suspicion about the motives underlying the war among people in Australia and Germany than among people in the United States.

More recent studies have supported the remarkable power of first strike news. The emotional impact of the first version has little influence on its power to persuade after correction, and the misinformation still has an effect even when it is remembered more poorly than the retraction.

Even explicitly warning people that they might be misled doesn’t dispel the lingering impact of misinformation after it has been retracted.

So while the latest reports say Bin Laden was alone and unarmed, the majority of people are likely to believe he was firing from behind a human shield, even when they can remember the corrections.

And if this isn’t being used as a deliberate strategy to manage public opinion, I shall eat my kevlar hat.

Link to Iraq was misinformation study DOI.
pdf of full text.
Link to related 2007 WashPost piece on the persistence of myths.

Ever had the experience of life flashing before your eyes?

Have you ever had the experience of ‘life flashing before your eyes’ when in danger? Perhaps in an accident, combat or a life threatening event?

If so I’d love to hear from you for a book I am writing on hallucinations, altered perceptions and how the brain constructs reality.

If so, feel free to drop me a brief email through this webpage as I’d be keen to hear more.

Parents a risk factor for psychological maladjustment

The Onion has a funny story with the headline ‘Man Raised By Parents Struggling To Adjust To Human Society’.

MINNEAPOLIS—Two years after his discovery by a team of developmental psychologists, David Sullivan, a man raised by a pair of mated parents, is still struggling to adapt to normal human society, sources confirmed Friday.

According to researchers at the University of Minnesota, Sullivan, 25, has made significant progress since moving into his own apartment in 2009, but the decades he spent being reared by parents has made joining civilization a desperately difficult task.

“The chances of David ever becoming socialized to the point where he can function normally among humans is very slim,” said Dr. Lisa Reynolds, a psychologist who has observed Sullivan since he was first introduced into the real world. “The sheltered, isolated environment in which he spent his adolescence has left him completely unequipped to deal with modern life. Tasks that may seem simple to us, such as doing laundry or grocery shopping, completely baffle David.”


Link to ‘Man Raised By Parents Struggling To Adjust To Human Society’.

Media addicted to self-fulfilling porn survey shock

Dr Petra has an excellent breakdown of a recent UK survey that ran with the finding that a quarter of men are worried about their online porn use.

Although the piece looks at the details of this particular headline grabbing story, it really serves as a good critique of almost any media survey about sex, as it examines the process of how such surveys are conducted and subsequently reported by the media.

Porn is a topic that is of increasing interest to the media because it fills a particular niche in the way sex is reported: it allows a sexy headline grabbing topic to presented while framing it with acceptable matronly concern.

If you look at the press coverage of this survey (alongside reflecting on the discussions I had with journalists today) some very definite patterns of how journalists/the media see sex/relationships and porn.

The view from medialand is as follows:

Who looks at porn? Well, it’s men. They are all straight and the porn they are seeking out is also heterosexual. Women are constructed as having problems/concerns about pornography – but only in relation to their (male) partner’s use of it. ‘Pornography’ as a term is used to mean one genre from one format (the internet). Looking at mainstream porn in moderation is okay, but if you do it often then it becomes a problem. Quite often described in the medicalised language of addiction.

Men are naturally sexual and so can’t help liking porn, but if they do look at it they’ll become abusers or change their neurological makeup or sexual behaviour. Women don’t like porn, those who do are presented as being in a minority, probably deluded, or liking romantic/couples-based/equality-based/feminist porn. Porn within relationships is only permissible if it’s to spice things up (or encourage reluctant wives to get in the mood). LGBT folk aren’t even thought about…

If you’re starting from this as your standard position it makes thinking critically about pornography difficult. It means journalists will be tasked (or choose) to find evidence to stack up this world view. It also means it’s risky to find other ways to think about/explore porn for fear of being seen to endorse it.

By the way, the image on the right is a French cartoon from the 1800s satirising concern about the ‘pornography epidemic’.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Link to excellent Dr Petra piece on media porn surveys.