Black men reading foreign language newspaper

The study is 10 years old (2009), but still relevant.

From LiveScience, People Choose News That Fits Their Views

Key points:

News readers gorge on media messages that fit their pre-existing views, rather than graze on a wider range of perspectives. In other words, they consume what they agree with, researchers say.

However, researchers still don’t know how individual uncertainty about political views affects time spent reading one side or the other. And on the flipside, individuals most confident in their political stance may actually seek out opposing views to read.

They did a nice job of controlling for the percentage of content that the person agreed with or didn’t agree with; in other words, the subjects weren’t just surfing the Internet.

“Conservatives” tend to read opposing views more often:

Some findings from both researchers suggest that individual confidence and certainty play a role in what people choose to read.

People with stronger party affiliation, conservative political views, and greater interest in politics proved more likely to click on articles with opposing views, according to the Ohio State study.

“It appears that people with these characteristics are more confident in their views and so they’re more inclined to at least take a quick look at the counterarguments,” Knobloch-Westerwick noted.

The authors suppose that this may be because

Conservative views dominate talk radio, and so conservatives may feel more satisfied by that outlet and are willing to check out opposing views on blogs.

By contrast, liberal views dominate the blogosphere, but are scant on talk radio.

However, according to Gallup (2003) only 29% of “Republicans” listen to talk radio. (I couldn’t readily find more recent data, but note this is only 6 years after the 2009 study.)

They make what I think is a dubious conclusion:

Still, having hardened political views bolstered by media messages might not represent all bad news for a democratic society.

“People who spend more time with messages that bolster their views are more likely to engage in political action, something that’s very desirable from a democratic point of view,” Knobloch-Westerwick said.

I disagree. I do not think it desirable for people who do not consider alternative views or even know what their opponents think, to be more engaged in politics. How is higher levels of engagement from less-informed people a good thing? It’s a negative, no matter what views they hold. I would say this even to a person who shared my exact political views.

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