Purdue Researcher: News Accounts Of UFOs Affect Beliefs

May 21, 1997

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- With the lines between television news and entertainment blurring, people's beliefs in unidentified flying objects can easily be swayed by what they see on TV, says a Purdue University communication researcher.

"The credibility of the source is important when it comes to how people evaluate the information they hear," says Glenn Sparks, professor of communication. "Our research shows that when uncritical accounts of UFO sightings are aired in the news, belief in UFOs increases among the audience."

Sparks tested the phenomenon by showing study participants two segments from a CBS "48 Hours" program that had been hosted by anchorman Dan Rather. The entire show was on the topic of UFOs and first aired on April 20, 1994. Participants' beliefs in UFOs were measured both before and after viewing the segments.

Half the participants saw a segment with a one-sided story featuring people who allegedly witnessed space aliens being dragged from a flying-saucer crash in New Mexico in 1947. The segment appeared exactly as it was originally broadcast and contained nothing that would discredit the existence of flying saucers.

The rest of the participants were shown a segment that depicted a group "filming an actual UFO." As part of the piece, scientists commented on the film and used computer enhancement to show that the image probably was nothing more than a conventional jet aircraft.

The one-sided segment increased UFO beliefs almost as much as the two-sided segment decreased beliefs in UFOs, Sparks says. The two-sided message group dropped more than 3.5 points on the UFO beliefs measure, while the one-sided group increased their UFO beliefs by nearly 2.5 points. "Statistical analysis revealed that the probability that changes of this magnitude would occur by chance alone is less than 3 in 10,000," he says.

Sparks says the effect of news stories about UFOs is particularly important given the number of people who are uncertain about their beliefs. "Surveys show that one-third to one-half of adults believe in the existence of UFOs," he says. "Another third are uncertain about their existence and are therefore likely to be impacted by information from sources they perceive to be credible.

"Overall, that particular episode of '48 Hours' did present a balanced treatment of UFOs. However, many viewers see only portions of a program, and those segments that are not balanced may be accepted by audience members without any critical scrutiny.

"The burden is on broadcasters of high-credibility programs to present balanced, thorough accounts of the phenomenon being addressed."

The upswing in interest in paranormal events has spawned many television entertainment programs such as "Unsolved Mysteries," "X-Files," and "Sightings." Sparks says the impact of these shows on paranormal beliefs should not be as great as that of respected news shows.

"People expect to believe the information they get from sources like '48 Hours' and Dan Rather. These expectations bias the way they process information while viewing the show and hinder critical scrutiny," Sparks says.

Sparks' study tied for the "Top Paper" award in the research division from the Broadcast Education Association during its annual convention April 4-7 in Las Vegas, Nev. Source: Glenn Sparks, (765) 494-3316; e-mail, gsparks@purdue.edu
Writer: Beth Forbes, (765) 494-9723; e-mail, beth_forbes@uns.purdue.edu
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail, purduenews@uns.purdue.edu

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A copy of the study is available from Beth Forbes, (765) 494-9723.
-end-


Purdue University

Related Communication Articles from Brightsurf:

Video is not always effective in science communication
What we can learn for online public relations: - Keep the information concise so that one can go thorough it within about 1 minute.

Ultraviolet communication to transform Army networks
Of ever-increasing concern for operating a tactical communications network is the possibility that a sophisticated adversary may detect friendly transmissions.

Adding noise for completely secure communication
How can we protect communications against 'eavesdropping' if we don't trust the devices used in the process?

How serotonin balances communication within the brain
Our brain is steadily engaged in soliloquies. These internal communications are usually also bombarded with external sensory events.

Breaking the communication code
Ever wonder how mice talk to each other. We don't have a dictionary quite yet, but UD neuroscientist Josh Neunuebel and his lab have linked mice chatter (their ultrasonic vocalizations) with specific behaviors.

A new twist on quantum communication in fiber
New research done at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Huazhang University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China, has exciting implications for secure data transfer across optical fiber networks.

Study traces evolution of acoustic communication
A study tracing acoustic communication across the tree of life of land-living vertebrates reveals that the ability to vocalize goes back hundreds of millions of years, is associated with a nocturnal lifestyle and has remained stable.

Should preschool writing be more communication and less ABCs?
Writing instruction in early education should be about more than letter formation and penmanship, argue Michigan State University researchers who found preschool teachers don't often encourage writing for communication purposes.

Trump's Twitter communication style shifted over time based on varying communication goals
The linguistic and discursive style of Donald Trump's tweets varied systematically before, during, and after the 2016 presidential campaign, depending on the communicative goals of Trump and his team, according to a study published Sept.

Intercultural communication crucial for engineering education
In an increasingly connected world it helps to engage with other cultures without prejudice or assumption.

Read More: Communication News and Communication Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.