Bilingual blog on the vote
Berlusconi media assets give him iconic status-study
A study by two Italian psychology professors I unearthed on the Internet throws light on the effect Silvio Berlusconi’s influence over the nation’s media can have on the minds of ordinary Italians.
It appears to suggest that the former prime minister’s image is deeply engrained in the psyche of Italians and this may give him an electoral advantage.
Through his Fininvest holding company, the former prime minister controls Italy’s biggest private broadcaster as well as publishing and film assets. His brother owns the national daily Il Giornale and his wife funds the newspaper Il Foglio.
The psychological study, by University of Padua professor Sara Mondini and University of Trieste professor Carlo Semenza and published in 2004, examines the case of a 66-year-old housewife who had been suffering from a degenerative brain disease for three years.
She could barely recognise the face of her husband and two children and consistently failed to recognise relatives and friends. Shown pictures of 15 famous people, including Hitler, Mussolini and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, the woman recognised only one: Silvio Berlusconi.
She was unable to provide any information about the 14 other famous people but in the case of Berlusconi she could say he was a very rich man, a television owner and a politician.
“It may be important to underline the fact that testing occurred at around the time of the 2001 Italian general election when media coverage of Berlusconi was at its peak,” write Mondini and Semenza.
The woman was still able to recognise him six months later, despite further significant deterioration of her cognitive skills. By then, she was unable to recognize pictures of her own daughter and son, her cousins and neighbours and had serious problems in recognizing them in person.
Mondini and Semenza conclude that repeated exposure to Berlusconi may have turned his face into a non-living, but very well recognisable, icon. This is supported by the fact that during the latter stages of the study, the woman was able to recognise pictures of Jesus Christ on the cross.
“This telling effect of Berlusconi’s pervasive propaganda constitutes an unprecedented case in the neuropsychological literature,” the authors write.