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Communal Reinforcement

Communal reinforcement is a social phenomenon in which a concept or idea is repeatedly asserted in a community, regardless of whether sufficient empirical evidence has been presented to support it. Over time, the concept or idea is reinforced to become a strong belief in many people’s minds and may be regarded by the members of the community as fact.

Communal reinforcement works both for true and false concepts or ideas. Therefore, the fact that many people in a given community believe a certain thing is not indicative of its truth or falsehood. A concept or idea cannot be accepted as fact or dismissed as falsehood simply because it is communally reinforced. Communal reinforcement can be seen as a positive force in society if it reinforces a concept or idea which is true or beneficial to society, such as the discouragement of drunk driving. Conversely, it can be seen as a negative force if it reinforces a concept or idea which is untrue or harmful to society, such as the avoidance of bathing in Medieval Europe.

Often, the concept or idea may be further reinforced by publications in the mass media, books, or other means of communication. The phrase “millions of people can’t all be wrong” is indicative of the common tendency to accept a communally reinforced idea without question, which often aids in the widespread acceptance of factoids. A very similar term to this term is community-reinforcement, which is a behavioral method to stop drug addiction.

Communal reinforcement explains how entire nations can pass on ineffable gibberish from generation to generation. It also explains how testimonials reinforced by other testimonials within the community of therapists, sociologists, psychologists, theologians, politicians, talk show hosts, etc., can supplant and be more powerful than scientific studies or accurate gathering of data by disinterested parties.

Every populist leader knows the value of communal reinforcement fortified by propaganda. So, populist leaders and parties use propaganda enormously and their propaganda includes the reinforcement of cultural myths and stereotypes that are so deeply embedded in a culture that recognizing a message as propaganda is often difficult. Propaganda plays a crucial role for communal reinforcement.