Selective exposure: what it is and how it affects the way we think

The processes of communication and persuasion depend a lot on how and to what extent the message has an impact on the audience. One of the fundamental variables involved in this process is the exposure, voluntary or involuntary, of the receiver to the message.

It can be defined as selective exposure to the cognitive process that prompts us to seek out, accept and pay attention to messages in accordance with their beliefs. and attitudes, avoiding information that challenges what they believe.

Below, we’ll take a closer look at this particular form of cognitive bias, as well as whether today, as new technologies have taken away the information monopoly on big brands, this process has been strengthened.

    What is selective exposure?

    The term selective exposure refers to the tendency of people to expose themselves to information, opinions or ideologically related media, or to offer a means of giving information to which the person is favorable. This information is selected to reinforce pre-existing views, And with the intention of avoiding any information that contradicts his own opinion or criticism.

    This idea is closely related to confirmation bias, which in essence is nothing more than the search for information to confirm our position. According to this idea, people, when a certain information is first presented to us, dissect it and establish how close or contrary it is to our way of seeing the world. We have opted for the one that has evidence favorable to what we think, omitting, ignoring or rejecting what is unfavorable.

    Selective exposure it may be related to cognitive dissonance, a concept defined by Leon Festinger, Which is the tension or lack of internal harmony in the system of ideas, beliefs, emotions and, in general, cognitions that the person perceives when he has two thoughts at the same time that they are in conflict. The person, who will already have a predetermined position vis-à-vis a fact or an opinion, will continue to seek information which will not make him question his pre-established opinion.

    It should be noted that if the messages are slightly at odds with the individual’s previous beliefs but seem interesting, new, or useful, it is likely that the person will voluntarily expose and pay attention to them. The more innovative the message and the less attached the recipient to their attitude on the subject, the more likely they are to be exposed to and accept this information..

      The impact of new technologies

      Before the Internet burst into our lives, media such as TV channels, radio stations, and newspapers were the vehicles through which the general public received information. People could allow themselves to be manipulated by what a media has said, reflect on what has been said in a debate program, change channels or stations, or relativize what has been said. With so little media, it was very difficult to find a radio show, TV channel, or newspaper whose ideology or way of looking at things coincided 100% with their vision.

      Still, there was still the possibility of seeing some media. Preferences end up being imposed on a daily basis, pushing everyone to select more or less consciously the means which allow them to influence their opinion or, as is often the case, which are more or less in phase with what they are. was already. thought in advance. However, this scenario has weakened over time, it is only applicable to the elderly whose main entertainment is analog.

      Nowadays, the emergence of new technologies due to the great emergence of the Internet has made it much more accessible to people and, among all this information, one has to hope that there is something which coincides extremely with our point of view. With more social media, digital newspapers, Youtube channels and similar platforms, people have a much wider range of information possibilities, which allows us to be more selective than ever.

      This idea has been defended by many critics with new technologies. Although the provision of information is much more important and, in principle, would make it easier for us to broaden our horizons, there are those who argue that this is, in fact, what it would do. to concentrate even more in our opinion. , we would only seek related means and be more intolerant of opinions that we do not share.

      Far from broadening our perspective, the enormous amount of new media would make us take extreme refuge in the evidence that confirms our way of seeing the world, now easily locatable by putting our opinion in the search engine and finding a myriad of media they say the exact same thing as we think. We have more proof than ever that we’re right, And the others are either totally wrong or have not been well documented.

      The strength of the plurality of ideas

      While it is true that we have more ability to select information and that we have an easier time finding personalized content, there is a problem with thinking that selective exposure is stronger than ever: assuming that people always have a preference for information. It’s quite debatable, because, really, there are many occasions when people feel interested in points of view other than our own.

      This phenomenon has been studied and does not seem to occur as strongly as you might think at first. In fact, on more than one occasion, people are deliberately seeking out critical information with what they believe to gain utilitarian benefit from it.. For example, if we want to study a career and we had initially opted for psychology, to avoid enrolling in a career that we might not like in the end we will seek opinions that criticize it with objective data, or that we recommend other options.

      It must also be said that the idea of selective exposure confers a kind of “superpower” on people: being able to recognize ideologically linked means the first time they see them. It is normal that if we are seasoned readers of a newspaper, blog or any other source of information for years, we more or less know what ideology is behind it. On the other hand, if this is the first time we see them, we will not be able to identify their opinion or their ideology as soon as we see it. We’ll have to be a bit more exposed and even dig into other posts, videos, or blog posts to get the big picture.

      With new technologies, it is much easier to be exposed to a large repertoire of opinions, in particular thanks to hyperlinks. It is very common that we pay more attention to the title of an article than to the newspaper that publishes it, as long as this position is implied at first, a position radically opposed to ours. By clicking and clicking, we found ourselves very far from the first page we visited, and along the way we were exposed to a wide variety of information.

      Another interesting aspect of the Internet is that media such as social networks expose their users to other points of view, not least because their own users are chatting with each other or making posts / threads commenting on a politically debatable subject. These posts end up being commented on by other users, Supporters or opponents of what has been said in them, and thus broadens a debate which, of course, could not have been possible if it had not been for people who had been exposed to a content who disliked and who feel the need to criticize.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Moya, M. (1999): Persuasion and changing attitudes. In JF Morales and C. Huici (Coords.): Social Psychology, 153-170. Madrid: McGraw-Hill.
      • McGuire, WJ (1985): Attitudes and Attitude Change. In G. Lindzey and E. Aronson (Eds.): The Handbook of Social Psychology, vol. 2. New York: Random House.
      • Rivero, G (2016). Internet news consumption, echo cameras? Spain: political.

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