A press release was published this morning on Yahoo! News with a provocative headline declaring that an “Intelligence Institute Study shows Fox News viewers have an IQ that is 20 points lower than the U.S. National average.” The article went on to assert that “Americans who watch Fox News have an average IQ of 80.”
The underlying conclusions of this “study” are affirmed by research conducted by a number of reputable organizations including the University of Maryland, NBC/Wall Street Journal, and the Sunlight Foundation. Unfortunately, this study, and the “Intelligence Institute,” appear to be figments of some prankster’s imagination. There is no evidence that the institute exists and the sole source for the Yahoo! item is a press release that contains no verifiable identifying data.
Nevertheless, the perpetrator of this hoax seems to have a solid grasp on the cognitive capacity of Fox News viewers even if no study was conducted to document it. As noted above, plenty of other real studies arrived at the same conclusions. Here are some key “findings” by the imaginary Intelligence Institute:
The results of a 4 year study show that Americans who obtain their news from Fox News channel have an average IQ of 80, which represents a 20 point deficit when compared to the U.S. national average of 100.
One test involved showing subjects a series of images and measuring their vitals, namely pulse rate and blood pressure. The self-identified conservatives’ vitals increased over 35% when shown complex or shocking images. The image that caused the most stress was a poorly edited picture of President Obama standing next to a “ghostly” image of a child holding a tarantula.
Lead researcher, P. Nichols, explains, “Less intelligent animals rely on instinct when confronted by something which they do not understand. This is an ancient survival reaction all animals, including humans, exhibit. It’s a very simple phenomenon, really; think about a dog being afraid of a vacuum cleaner. He doesn’t know what a vacuum is or if it may harm him, so he becomes agitated and barks at it. Less intelligent humans do the same thing. Concepts that are too complex for them to understand, may frighten or anger them.” He continues, “Fox News’ content is presented at an elementary school level and plays directly into the fears of the less educated and less intelligent.”
The allegation that Fox News exploits their audience’s tendency to voraciously consume absurdly spun tales driven by fear has been documented by researchers at the University College London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience (and yes, that’s real). Conservatives regularly demonstrate their proclivity for barking at the outrageous falsehoods proffered by Fox and other conservative fabulists. Among the university’s findings were that the brains of conservatives are more likely to have an enlarged amygdala which is associated with greater inflexibility, emotion, and fear response. This could account for conservatives having a greater susceptibility to conspiracy models of thinking as evidenced by this collection of right-wing crackpottery.
The editors at Yahoo! may have been fooled by this phony press release, but the bigger fools are those who watch and believe the certifiable nonsense that is broadcast every day on Fox News. It is difficult to ascertain whether watching Fox News actually makes the viewer stupid, or if stupid people are attracted to Fox News in the first place. Either way, neither Fox nor their audience should be taken as seriously as Yahoo! took this press release.
[Update:} The Huffington Post contacted the “PR guru” who is responsible for the phony press release. He admits that much of what is in the release is false, but maintains that a study of some sort was actually conducted. I doubt it. The misstatements to which he admits pretty much kill his credibility, and his alternate explanations are no more believable than his original BS. It is nonetheless, pretty funny. And none of the dubious claims from this huckster diminish the bona fide studies cited above.