CMN 3133: Reading #6 Oct 20th 2013
Selective Exposure to Information: A critical Review
David O. Sears and Jonathan L. Freedman
Communication bias and attitude bias actually correlate and by considering other factors than attitude bias
might account for selectivity.
Selective exposureIt is a basic fact in the thinking of many social scientists about communication effects.
Nevertheless, the empirical literature on selective exposure has been rather unsatisfying.
Clarify what is meant by selective exposure then to characterize the evidence leading to its use and finally
to evaluate the evidence regarding whether or not there is a psychological tendency to prefer supportive to
non supportive information.
Any systematic bias in audience composition. Sometimes it is used to describe any bias whatever in the
composition of a communication audience, as long as the bias can be correlated with anything unusual in
Partisan exposure is said to be present.
Berelson and Steiner: human behaviour “people tend to see and hear communications that are favorable
or congenial to their predispositions; they are more likely to see and hear congenial communications than
neutral or hostile ones”
Unusual agreement about a matter of opinion matters of opinion Selectivity describes audience bias in the direction of agreeing to an unusual extent with the
communicator’s stand on an issue relevant to the communication.
Klapper summarized the point this way: “by and large. People tend to expose themselves to those mass
communications which are in accord with their existing attitudes”
They only assert that communication audiences usually share to an extraordinary degree, the viewpoints of
“De facto selectivity” preference for supportive rather than nonsupportive information.
People are thought actively to seek out material that supports their opinions, and actively to avoid material
that challenges the,.
“it is likely that a desire for re enforcement of ones own point of view exists.”
People expose themselves to communications with which they already agree and do not expose
themselves to those with which they disagree, because they actively seek the former and actively avoid the
Presumably because of a general psychological preference for compatible information.
De facto selectivity and selective exposure:
Students tended to read newspapers whose editorial policy was the closest to their own opinions..
Each of these demonstrations shares a common basis: the correlation of positions on an attitude dimension
with an act or a series of acts of exposure to mass communications.
Measurement problems : even so, many reports of de facto selectivity may well overestimate the
magnitude of the effect because of the kinds of measures used.
antedate the oppurtunities for exposure, as for instance, when the respondent is known to have bought a
car before the specific ads in questions appeared or in panel studies.
None of these is a substitute for an advance measure, and each one maximizes the probability of obtaining
de facto selectivity, since any attitude change is likely to reduce the discrepancy between communications
and respondents position rather than increase it. Alternative predictors: two general possibilities arise when we consider whether other variables are
better predictors of selectivity than attitudes.
Political conservatism predicted attendance rather well, but then so did a variety of other background
variables. In fact, a substantial number of Crusaders ascribed their own attendance to church influence. So
it may be quite arbitrary to give ideology the major credit for exposure even in this seemingly obvious case.
Public affairs , communications most powerfully, years of education. Now, clearly, de facto selectivity effects
could be obtained with any issue about which highly educated people generally disagree with poorly
Procivil liberties, procivil rights and internationalist positions, pro UN campaigns
Reaches mainly those sympathetic to it.
“if there was an increase to exposure (during the campaign) it was their previous orientation (attitude toward
the UN) which determined the extent to which people exposed themselves to further information about the
These are all things that well educated people are likely to do more than poorly educated people,
regardless of how they feel about the UN
Thus, many reports of de facto selective exposure may represent little more than cases in which highly
educated persons, who normally are overrepresented in any audience for public affairs presentations, also
share a common set of political, social and/or economic attitudes.
Conclusion: so on several groups, published reports of de facto selectivity fall somewhat short of
representing ideal proof that people do in fact “tend to expose themselves to those mass communications
which are in accord with their existing attitudes.
The communications have been most often, written articles offered in a way that clearly communicates their
positions on the issue.
Supportive information is usually defined simply as the communicators taking the same general position as
the subject and nonsupportive as his taking the opposite position. Some subjects were given a choice among positively oriented articles, and these subjects significantly
preferred those favorable to the chosen exam.
In other words, supportive information was preferred among the former subjects, nonsupportive slightly
preferred among the latter.
Rosen’s feelings are both striking and odd.
The two studies considered together, provide evidence about every kind: with positive articles, subjects
prefer supportive information; with negative articles, they have no preference; and with titles advocating
reversal of choice and (thus clearly differing in supportiveness), they strongly prefer non supportive
So partisan hip was not absent, but it operated on information evaluation rather than on information
By now it must be clear that there is no consistent result in this research. Five studies showed some
preference for supportive information:
Ehrilich (1957), Freedman and Sears (1963). Adams (1961), Mills et al. (positive articles) (1961 and Rosen
Cognitive Dissonance and selective exposure:
Even if there is no general preference in one way or the other, there must be conditions under which
supportive information will be preferred.
Cognitive dissonance theory two specific hypotheses have been offered, each based on the assumption
that dissonance may be reduced or avoided by selectivity in information seeking.
Voluntary exposure to information:
As indicated above, clearly the most powerful known predictor of voluntary exposure to mass
communication of informational of public affairs sort is the general factor of education and social class.
So in contrast to the rather pale and ephemeral effects fo selectivity, de facto or otherwise, education yields
enormous differences. Why it produces such differences is not known and remains a provocative question,
and a subtler one than might a