Ignorance is …… Influence

May 19, 2008 at 8:20 pm 3 comments

If you thought that knowing more than everyone else is the key to power and influence — think again. A recent study shows that the key to influence is being able to control the flow of information.  Being able to withhold some facts deliberately and make sure others don’t become public knowledge is more important than having that information yourself.

To paraphrase George Orwell “Ignorance is Strength”

In the current issue of The RAND Journal of Economics, USC researchers Isabelle Brocas and Juan Carrillo provide a challenge to the classic economic model of information manipulation, in which knowing more than anybody else is the key to influence.

Instead, economists Isabelle Brocas and Juan D. Carrillo present a situation – commonly observed in real life – in which all parties have access to the same information, but one party still manages to control public opinion.

“Optimally, you want to provide enough information so the other party reaches a certain level of confidence, but stop once you reach that level,” Brocas explained. “Otherwise, it may be the case that more information causes the confidence level to go down.”  The study, “Influence Through Ignorance,” is the first to thoroughly examine situations in which power comes from controlling the flow of public information, as opposed to the possession of private information.

As Brocas and Carrillo explain, there are secrets – facts that are deliberately withheld – and there are facts that are not known to anybody.

“It’s not necessary to have extra information,” Brocas said. “You can induce people to do what you want just by stopping the flow of information or continuing it. That’s enough.”  Notably, the party manipulating the flow of information must deliberately choose to remain uninformed as well – which can backfire.

“Overall, the ability of to control the flow of news and remain publicly ignorant gives the leader some power, which is used to influence the actions of the follower,” the researchers wrote.

Competition, supported by media diversity and public sources of research funding, not only induces outlets to release more information but also causes the “influence through ignorance” effect to diminish – and under certain circumstances to vanish – the researchers found.

“OK, this is interesting” you say “but how does it relates to dogs?”  Well, I’m glad you asked.  Self-censoring, or “intentional ignorance” comes from the unwillingness of writers to state unpopular facts from the fear of being attacked — not by government officials or special interest groups — but by readers, colleagues, peers and the public at large.

With the increasing popularization of “purely positive” and politically correct dog training methods, not only have the strongly biased views of their proponents become the norm in media reporting, but there has also been a drive to suppress information about other ways of training.  In my last year of teaching at an AKC all-breed club a group of members proposed that we burn many of the older books and videos in our library.  Not only did these people want those materials out of our library, they wanted them destroyed so that they couldn’t ‘pollute’ the minds of anyone who might read them.

Thankfully, clearer heads prevailed that day and (as far as I know) those valuable historic materials remain in the library today.

When did it become ‘common knowledge” that ANYTHING that involves correction is inhumane?  And how can anyone believe that it is better to destroy a dog than to use any corrections whatsoever in training it?

Although I recognize that in some cases undesirable behavior will disappear when it is ignored, I also see many other cases where ingrained and/or self-rewarding behaviors persist strongly even in the face of non-reward.  When used properly and by definition, punishment is self eliminating.  Punishment is defined as anything that decreases the occurrence of an antecedent behavior. In proper, fair training as the occurrence of the behavior decreases, the use of punishment also decreases — and then ends.

In this rush to embrace the new, what happened to common sense?  Positive reinforcement is a wonderful thing.  It is the main factor used in my training programs, but ‘all positive methods’ (those that use absolutely no corrective consequences) make little sense to dogs and don’t produce dependable results.

And regardless of how one feels about issues — even wildly inflammatory issues like dog training methods — as Brocas and Carillo pointed out so well in their paper, its important not only to dig up facts, but also to dig deep, before making our minds.
“Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing.”
                      George Orwell

Entry filed under: behavior science, cynicism, dog, dog obedience, dog training, dogs, science. Tags: , .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. shirley  |  May 19, 2008 at 10:10 pm

    this winter i stood on a street corner for 40 minutes ignoring my dog. absolutely useless. as it was when i stood and ignored her for any of 10, 15, 20, or 25 minutes on any part of a street, road or field.

    and using redirection instead isn’t such a great alternative either. i want my dog to know that chasing a cat into the street is not allowed, not just have her forget about the cat because there a treat in her face or i got out a toy for her to destroy instead. but it’s nerve wracking to figure out what’s best for your particular dog, when often that involves trial and error; how can you be sure what you’re doing will not break their little minds forever?

    so yeah, count me in with the diggers. but it does get fucking exhausting sorting through all this crap and having to hold off on action until you have enough information. thanks for giving it a go

  • 2. Caveat  |  May 20, 2008 at 12:51 am

    I don’t know what ‘positive’ method would have prevented my 90-lb SPCA special adolescent ‘rottweiler’ from jumping up and planting his front feet on the chest of everyone we passed on the street.

    Had to resort to cruel and unusual punishment. A sideways correction (I always use a flat collar) and a sergeant-major’s version of ‘OFF!’. Took about a week to break this annoying habit completely.

    Common sense goes a long way towards solving problems. Dogma, however, inspires nothing but mindless repetition. Fads come and go, proven methods are here to stay.

    I thought you were going to work around to the concentration of media power into fewer and fewer hands, as well as the unholy alliance between media and politicians, which is something fairly new…not to mention the overall ‘dumbing down’ of news reporting and news reporters.

    The study looks interesting and definitely worth reading.

  • 3. Dorene  |  May 21, 2008 at 2:11 am

    I thought you were going to talk about how blogs make it more difficult to control the flow of information, such that it’s harder to control public opinion — the arrival of 3 local politcal blogs is having huge effects on the politics in my town, which is definately changing how business is done.

    This relateds back to dogs because information on training can now come from many sources — and the person who really wants to understand their dog can compare and contrast the information to make an informed decision about what will work for their dog.

    I’m not sure exactly what it’s called, but I had to give Pepper (Border Collie) what I call ‘The Evil Eye” yesterday — the day before, she had discovered that the apartment complex next to the community garden had not cleaned their dumpster area and thus, was Doggie Paradise — and way outside the zone of where she is allowed off-leash. So, I got very little done in the community garden yesterday — taking lots of breaks to give Pepper the Evil Eye and grunt that said “if you go further than that bush, you’re on tie-out for the rest of the day.” She HATES losing her freedom, so once she realized she wasn’t going to be able to sneak off, she dealt. I know we’ll have to do follow-up, but it’s getting the job done — would be better if the site manager actually did THEIR job and cleaned up that trash — can’t be healhy for anyone.

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