Americans Choose Media Messages They Agree With

June 9, 2009

This article is included in these additional categories:

Analytics, Automated & MarTech | Media & Entertainment

Americans prefer to read political articles that support their own pre-existing views and spend 36% more time reading articles they agree with vs. articles that challenge their beliefs, according to research conducted at Ohio State University.

The study also found that even when respondents did read articles that ran counter to their viewpoint, they nearly always attempted to balance them by reading others that confirmed their beliefs.

Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, co-author of the study and associate professor of communication at OSU, said that this study, in which researchers observed and recorded which material respondents chose to read (rather than relying upon them to self-report), is the first of its kind to demonstrate that people selectively and consistently choose to focus on media messages that agree with their own views.

During the study, participants clicked on an average of 1.9 articles that agreed with their views, and 1.4 articles that didn’t. This gave the participants a 58% likelihood of picking an article that supported their viewpoint vs. a 43% likelihood of choosing an article that challenged their beliefs.

Additional findings:

  • Participants are most likely to read only articles that were consistent with their views. Next most common is reading both views on an issue. Very few people only click on articles that oppose their views.
  • People with a stronger party affiliation, conservative political views, and greater interest in politics were the ones most likely to click on articles with opposing viewpoints.
  • People who reported that they read news more frequently were more likely to avoid opposing viewpoints.

“People have more media choices these days, and they can choose to only be exposed to messages that agree with their current beliefs,” Knobloch-Westerwick said.

According to Knoblock,-Westerwick, the results from the study have a host of real-world implications, “If you only pay attention to messages you agree with, that can make you more extreme in your viewpoints, because you never consider the other side,” she said. “Citizens really should be weighing and monitoring diverse arguments in order to make informed decisions. Unfortunately, that’s not happening as often as it should.”

About the study: Knobloch-Westerwick conducted the study with Jingbo Meng, a former OSU master’s degree student. The research involved 156 undergraduate students at an American university. In the first of two sessions conducted for the study, the participants were asked their views concerning four hot-button topics: Gun ownership, abortion, health care regulation and the minimum wage. They were also asked about 13 other issues that were included to cover the fact that the researchers were interested in these four issues. Six weeks later, the students were invited to participate in another study, supposedly unrelated to the first. In this case, they went to a computer lab, where they were asked to give their impressions of a new online magazine. The online magazine had pro and con articles on the four topics that they were questioned about in the first session. All the articles had headlines that clearly indicated what position they were advocating.


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