A survey of Americans conducted by YouGov, an international research, data, and analytics group headquartered in London for America, tells me that way too many Americans are dumber than a bag of rocks, or dumber than Joe Biden, depending on your preferred metaphor.
Perception is formed by observation. With most people, if they “see” it, they believe it. But perception is not reality. Modern Americans “see” something on TV or the internet, and believe that whatever “that” might be is a reflection of reality, because they generally spend too much time in front of a screen.
Perception and reality rarely align.
Take TV commercials. If aliens tapped into TV feeds, they’d be left with the perception that the majority, or a significant minority, of couples are interracial. They aren’t. The current amount is about 10 percent, but adverts selling products from cars to deodorant would leave you with a perception that maybe 60 percent of couples are interracial.
Since 2019, the shift in the color of actors in ads went from mostly white to mostly Black. Companies were reminded of the overrepresentation of whites in commercials, and they answered that call with a vast overcompensation. Black people comprise about 13 percent of the population, but TV ads overpopulate commercials with Black actors to the point that commercials are likely employing more black actors than any other demographic (demo). What do American think is the percentage of Blacks in America? Forty-one percent.
Some reading this will cry “white fragility!” “Racist!.” But the perception of Blacks of their demographic size blows that up. Blacks thought their demo was 52 percent of the population. Maybe they watch more TV commercials? Nope. Most Americans watch too much TV.
From the study:
…[n]on-Black Americans estimate the proportion is roughly 39%, closer to the real figure of 12%. First-generation immigrants we surveyed estimate that first-generation immigrants account for 40% of U.S. adults, while non-immigrants guess it is around 31%, closer to the actual figure of 14%.
I don’t watch TV for much beyond research and sports – but my wife watches for entertainment. I’ve noticed a couple of things, when my wife wants me to ‘join’ her. There are a lot more gay characters in movies and on TV shows than statistics tell us, and a lot more Muslims than the statistics support. How do I know the characters are gay? Because the plotlines dictate, indeed mandate, that the viewer be told.
What about Muslims? Headscarves. Well, that’s bigoted – lots of women wear scarves. Nope. I’ve asked my wife. “Is that character Muslim”? The answer is always: Yes. In reality, the Muslim population in the US is less than one percent. What do Americans think, or perceive to be the percentage? Twenty-seven percent.
My wife was watching a show Monday night. It was a crime drama, and a character was transgender – I think. I don’t know what the person was, but they were dressed like a drag queen
But I’m not a biologist. I didn’t have to ask, because shows make it abundantly clear. What do Americans think is the percentage of transgenders? In reality, it’s well under one percent. Americans pegged the number at 21 percent.
Those broad numbers are bad enough, but there are plenty of dummies to go around. Why are Americans so bad at adjusting their perceptions? A hint is: not the survey. The survey states that Americans think that 77 percent have read a book in the past year. The survey claims the number is 50 percent. I think it’s lower, because I have a preconception that most people are not terribly well-informed or curious.
The author tries to explain:
When a person’s lived experience suggests an extreme value — such as a small proportion of people who are Jewish or a large proportion of people who are Christian — they often assume, reasonably, that their experiences are biased. In response, they adjust their prior estimate of a group’s size accordingly by shifting it closer to what they perceive to be the mean group size (that is, 50%). This can facilitate misestimation (sic) in surveys, such as ours, which don’t require people to make tradeoffs by constraining the sum of group proportions within a certain category to 100%.
In common-speak, most people aren’t bright, and they will take wild stabs at reality based on perception, rounding the mean.
We are not a smart people, unfortunately — and apparently, our president matches that label. In this case, perception matches reality.
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