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What is the technical term for this sociological/psychological phenomenon?

  1. May 9, 2012 #1
    Greetings everyone,

    When someone discusses a given topic, people often perceive that the speaker's view on the topic is opposite theirs, even if no opinion on the topic was given. I know that there is a technical term for this (I read it in an obscure magazine, like Alaska Airlines magazine or something, years ago), but I don't know what it is.

    Does anyone know the term I'm looking for?

    Just to be as clear as possible, I will give the example that was given in the magazine (or at least, my distorted recollection of it).

    The author was a technology reviewer, who often compared Microsoft and Apple products. He mentioned that regardless of whether he favored one or the other in his articles, he would inevitably get angry responses to his article from the opposing viewpoint. During one article he decided not to actually compare them, but simply to dedicate one half of his article to the merits of a Microsoft product, and the other half to the merits of the corresponding Apple product (I think he was just reviewing operating systems) - and he said this resulted in him getting twice as many angry responses as he usually did, and that these responses indicated that the people who were angry had barely seemed to notice the half of the article that promoted their viewpoint. He then said he discussed this experience with people he knew and eventually learned the name of this phenomenon, which he mentioned in the article I read and which I have since forgotten.

    Thanks for any help you can give.

    -HJ Farnsworth
  2. jcsd
  3. May 9, 2012 #2


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    I don't know if there is a specific name for people agreeing with their preference. If there were two separate parts to his negative remarks, that might explain the increase in responses if people didn't notice he was negative/positive about both products.
  4. May 9, 2012 #3
    Thanks for the quick response, Evo.

    People agreeing with their preference isn't quite the thing I'm looking for - it's more of a sort of automatic perception by a listener that, if a speaker mentions a topic, then the speaker's view on that topic is opposite that of the listener's, regardless to whether there was a specific opinion expressed by the speaker.

    I'm sure that there is a term for this, because I can remember reading it in that article - I just can't remember what that term is.

    I'll make up a silly conversation as another (crude) example of the thing I'm trying to name:

    Speaker - "I like the command styles of Kirk and Picard."
    Listener - "How could you possibly like Picard better than Kirk?"

    Of course, this example was a hyperbole - but I'm just trying to get the idea across to try to figure out what the term I'm looking for is.

    Thanks again.

    -HJ Farnsworth
  5. May 12, 2012 #4
    The term "mental filter" from Cognitive Therapy applies to what you're talking about:


    But I wouldn't call this a "technical" term.

    The three types of mental filters mentioned at the link are worth a look. "All-Or-Nothing thinking" might fit best. In this case, the All-Or-Nothing proposition would be: any comment that isn't composed exclusively of unqualified praise must be regarded as damnation.

    In the meantime, I'm trying to think of a formal logical fallacy that describes this (which would make it more of a proper "technical term"), but the only thing that comes to mind is that this might be considered a special case of confirmation bias.
  6. May 12, 2012 #5
    Rorshach effect? I don't know if that is true but it sounds good.

    "Ignorantly stubborn" or "false assumption" come to mind as descriptive phrases for which you are speaking. Certain words, names and phrases can trigger the phenomenon. It relies on an association with a word like Romney=rich, Obama=elite, green=money, etc. Like a Rorshach test, or something similar, where you are given an image or word and told to say aloud the first thing that comes to your mind.
  7. May 22, 2012 #6
    Thanks for the responses, everyone. I was on vacation so just read them a couple days ago.

    Zoobyshoe, I went to the link you sent me and read the links. They weren't quite what I was looking for, but they definitely pointed me in the right direction.

    I did a bunch of Google searches for phenomena resembling all-or-nothing thinking, and eventually came across a paper (free pdf download if you google it) called, "The hostile media phenomenon: biased perception and perceptions of media bias in coverage of the Beirut massacre".

    It turns out the hostile media phenomenon, also called the hostile media effect, was pretty much exactly what I was looking for, for the case of media at least. It is an example of disconfirmation bias (or confirmation bias, depending on how you look at it).



    Thanks again.

    -HJ Farnsworth
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