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Sam Sommers

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Santorum: Freudian Slip or Stutter?

Posted: 01/05/12 05:05 PM ET

Reality's rarely as cut-and-dried as we assume it to be. It's not only beauty that's subject to the eye of the beholder. Just ask Rick Santorum.

I remember back to my Intro to Psychology course as a college freshman. My professor was lecturing on the topic of persuasion and he played for us a few seconds of Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven. These were the lines: "Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run/ There's still time to change the road you're on."

Then he played those two lines backwards. I, and those sitting near me, heard gibberish. But next he told us these lines were purported to include a backwards-masked satanic message. He projected the proposed backwards lyrics in question on the screen in front of us. And when he again played the song backwards, we all heard it, clear as day:

"Here's to my sweet Satan, the one whose little pathways make me glad, whose power is Satan."

What we expected to hear quite literally changed what we did hear. Today's example of that same lesson? Well, step aside, Robert Plant, because here comes Rick Santorum. The clip in question involves Santorum discussing his position on welfare policy. Take a look below: the controversial segment happens at 0:37.

What did you hear?

A lot of people not particularly sympathetic to the Santorum campaign have been quick to jump on the statement, objecting to the former Senator's remark that, "I don't want to make Black people's lives better by giving them someone's money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money."

But Santorum asserts that this is not what he said -- that he never used the word Black. He said he has watched the clip several times, and what sounds like Black was actually just a momentary episode of tongue-tied stammering.

Watch the clip again-what do you think?

It's no big surprise that perceptions of the clip diverge by political affiliation. And not all of this is spin or intentional misdirection -- much like sports fans can literally see the same play differently, genuine differences in perception often arise down political or international lines.

I'll be honest: I'm no Santorum supporter. In fact, I didn't even know that two-word phrase existed until five days ago. And when I first listened to the clip, it was obvious to me that he said Black.

But I then watched it again. And again. And again and again. And now I can actually see a plausible interpretation that Santorum mistakenly starts to say the word lives before he says people's, so he then self-corrects, adding people's before he repeats lives again. And the end result winds up sounding a lot like "Black people's lives."

Maybe. I change my mind each time I watch it. (And who knows what the audience heard, though it's fairly unambiguous that they liked whatever it is that they think he said.)

Reality is rarely cut-and-dried. Real life is messy and ambiguous and interpreted through subjective lenses. Who we are and what we believe shape how the world around us is seen. And also heard.

Like this post? Interested in the book? Then check out the website for "Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World" (now available!). You can also follow Sam on Facebook here and on Twitter here. New book trailer video below:

 
 
 

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