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Researcher studying the ubiquitous nature of deceptive communication

Researcher Matt McGlone talked about cherry-picking and deceptive communication during his stop at the TSPR studios.
Rich Egger
Researcher Matt McGlone talked about cherry-picking and deceptive communication during his stop at the TSPR studios.

People have engaged in deceptive communication for as long as they’ve communicated with one another. That’s the opinion of a researcher who has focused on the topic.

“Cherry-picking – the idea of selectively telling the truth, i.e., those things that support our position while ignoring those things that don’t – is a type of deceptive communication that is ubiquitous and I think it deserves some focus,” said Matt McGlone, a Professor of Communications Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

McGlone was in Macomb to give the 33rd annual Thompson Lecture at Western Illinois University. The lecture is named in honor of Wayne Thompson, who taught speech communication at Western.

McGlone’s presentation was titled, “Half-Truths and other Fractions: Cherry Picking in Communication.”

McGlone said you can find examples throughout history of people selectively telling the truth.

“You can go through the ages in which generals would selectively report their successes on the battlefield and would not report all the losses,” he cited as one example.

McGlone said he’s also interested in “blurbing” in pop culture. That’s when portions of reviews – such as for movies or books – are pulled from an otherwise mediocre write-up to make it appear the critic liked what they saw or read.

McGlone said deceptive statements almost always contain a kernel of truth.

“Something can be the truth in that this little snippet really was said or written, but taken out of context it really has a very different meaning,” he said.

McGlone also said that taking things out of context is not always bad. For example, it’s the basis of a lot of humor.

And he said everyone engages in cherry-picking. He said it’s not always a strategic maneuver. Sometimes it’s done simply because we like to think the best of ourselves.

“Take a look at social media. People, for the most part, aren’t posting their failures on social media. They’re pointing out the great things – the awards they win, the great times they had,” he said.

“We always try to present a nice public persona and put our best foot forward. I think that’s a kind of cherry-picking that goes on every day. I think everybody does that.”

You can learn more about what McGlone had to say in his conversation with TSPR by listening to the full interview.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from  readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.