How much can you trust people’s retelling of information the’ve read? In episode 95, Shiri Melumad from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business discusses her research showing that when – much like the children’s game “telephone” – news is repeatedly retold, it undergoes a stylistic transformation through which the original facts are increasingly replaced by opinions and interpretations, with a slant toward negativity. Her article “The dynamics of distortion: How successive summarization alters the retelling of news”, was published with Robert Meyer and Yoon Duk Kim, on January 7, 2021 in the Journal of Marketing Research.

Positively Negative - Shiri Melumad
Positively Negative - Shiri Melumad
Positively Negative - Shiri Melumad Positively Negative - Shiri Melumad
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Hosts / Producers

Doug Leigh & Ryan Watkins

How to Cite

Leigh, D., Watkins, R., & Melumad, S.. (2021). Parsing Science – Positively Negative. doi: 10.6084/m9.figshare.14207465


What’s The Angle? by Shane Ivers


Shiri Melumad: What is I think kind of scary is that, with each new retelling, it also becomes increasingly more opinionated and increasingly negative.

Ryan Watkins: This is Parsing Science, the unpublished stories behind the world’s most compelling science, as told by the researchers themselves. I’m Ryan Watkins.

Doug Leigh: And I’m Doug Leigh. Today, in episode 95 of Parsing Science, we’ll talk with Shiri Melumad from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business about her research, which shows that the greater relative knowledge that a person summarizing information feels, the more they tend to provide guidance on what’s relayed, using negativity to do so in a persuasive manner, and resulting in increasingly less detailed and more opinionated summaries. Here is Shiri Melumad.

Melumad: Hi, everyone. I’m Shiri Melumad. I’m an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School. I’m very excited to be on the podcast today. So I was born in Palo Alto. I lived there until I was four years old. And then my parents and I moved to northern New Jersey. And I grew up in Englewood, New Jersey. And then I attended Columbia University for my undergrad, my BA was in psychology. It was, I think, roughly the end of my sophomore year / junior year, and I sort of had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. And I was considering going to law school, it seems sort of like a default option. So I started studying for the LSAT. And my dad was also an academic. So he was a professor of accounting. And he said, “You know, no pressure. But have you considered pursuing a PhD in marketing? It’s essentially like Applied Psychology.” And so I started looking into it. I became a research assistant with a professor in the marketing department at Columbia Business School. I audited a doctoral seminar in marketing. I took an MBA level class in marketing. And it all sort of converged on the fact that I really liked it. I really liked the research side of it. And so I ended up applying to doctoral programs in marketing. And that’s how I ended up at the PhD program in marketing at Columbia Business School. I completed my PhD there. And then I went on the job market, and I got my basically my dream job at Wharton. And here I am.

Watkins: In online settings such as Twitter, people sharing news stories often also include an accompanying link to that story in their post. But when other people retweet those stories, they sometimes make their own interpretations about the original story and do so with or without ever reading the original article. And these kinds of successive summarizations can substantially alter what the original story entailed. So we began our conversation by asking Shiri what motivated her to pursue this line of research.

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