It’s worth thinking about some basic psychology in relation to the Charleston events. Cognitive psychologists study heuristics that people use to make judgments about the likelihood of events that are complexly determined — things like airplane crashes or shark attacks. A heuristic relevant to Charleston is the availability heuristic, where people make judgments and form attitudes based on their memories of past events. Such memories are greatly influenced by media coverage. From Wikipedia:
After seeing news stories about child abductions, people may judge that the likelihood of this event is greater. Media coverage can help fuel a person’s example bias with widespread and extensive coverage of unusual events, such as homicide or airline accidents, and less coverage of more routine, less sensational events, such as common diseases or car accidents. For example, when asked to rate the probability of a variety of causes of death, people tend to rate “newsworthy” events as more likely because they can more readily recall an example from memory. Moreover, unusual and vivid events like homicides, shark attacks, or lightning are more often reported in mass media than common and un-sensational causes of death like common diseases.
For example, many people think that the likelihood of dying from shark attacks is greater than that of dying from being hit by falling airplane parts, when more people actually die from falling airplane parts. When a shark attack occurs, the deaths are widely reported in the media whereas deaths as a result of being hit by falling airplane parts are rarely reported in the media.
The application to Charleston is obvious. There is wall-to-wall media coverage, so people will easily recall what happened there. Such memories will be easily available to influence attitudes and judgments. Whereas Black-on-White crime motivated by racial hatred is vastly more common than the reverse, such events are rarely reported in the national media, and even local media typically ignore racial designations and downplay racial motivation in such attacks. Read more