Diversity of Information Doesn’t Guarantee Diversity of Views

By Kat Piper
Kat Piper
Kat Piper
February 26, 2010 Updated: February 26, 2010

Despite the wealth of information now available, most people tend to ignore information that contradicts their beliefs, but they may be more open to seeking out the "truth" when the information benefits them, according to new research.

The study, carried out by researchers from four U.S. universities, also found that people who are unsure of their own beliefs are less likely to entertain opposing views.

The researchers wanted to discover whether people actively choose to avoid information that is contrary to their beliefs and attitudes—that is, they prefer to feel validated rather than know the true facts—or whether lifestyle, such as choice of friends, simply keeps them more in contact with like-minded people and information.

"We wanted to see exactly across the board to what extent people are willing to seek out the truth versus just stay comfortable with what they know," said Dr. Dolores Albarracín, professor at the University of Illinois, in a press release.

The research, published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, analyzed data from 91 other published studies involving nearly 8,000 participants. In the studies, participants had generally been asked to talk about their views on a particular topic, and then were given the choice of either reading or viewing information that either supported or opposed their point of view.

The participants were twice as likely to choose the view that agreed with their beliefs, said the researchers (67 percent vs. 33 percent). Unsurprisingly, people with close-minded personalities were more reluctant to investigate opposing views, as were people when talking about matters of politics, religion, or ethical values.

"For the most part it seems that people tend to stay with their own beliefs and attitudes because changing those might prevent them from living the lives they're living," said Albarracín. "But it's good news that one out of three times, or close to that, they are willing to seek out the other side."

In addition, the researchers discovered that certain jobs or factors could influence choices in seeking out opposing views. For example, politicians, who have to publicly defend their ideas, are more likely to want to investigate alternative views to their own, and thus their thoughts may evolve with time.

When the opposing view is also of benefit to the person, they are also more likely to expose themselves to it, said Albarracín.

"If you're going to buy a house and you really like the house, you're still going to have it inspected," she said. "Similarly, no matter how much you like your surgeon, you may seek out a second opinion before scheduling a major operation," she said.

The results of the study may have implications when developing health intervention programs and disseminating political information during democratic elections, concluded the researchers.

To read the research paper, please visit http://www.psych.uiuc.edu/~dalbarra/pubs/selective%20exposure%20metaanalysis.pdf

Kat Piper