Study: A Lot Of Liberals Won’t Read Dissenting Opinions Even If You Pay Them

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By Andrew Follett

Liberals are slightly more likely than conservatives to give up real money in order to avoid reading political opinions with which they disagree, according to a new study by scientists from the University of Illinois.

The study asked 2,417 participants to read either an article that concurred with their own view or one that contradicted it. If they read the article with which they disagreed, they would be entered in a drawing to win $10. If they selected an article they agreed with, they’d only be able to win $7.

Roughly 63 percent of liberals and 58 percent of conservatives read the article they already agreed with, even though it meant they would earn less money. This was a much smaller difference between political parties than researchers thought they’d detect.

“Ideologically committed people are similarly motivated to avoid ideologically crosscutting information,” the study’s abstract said. “Although some previous research has found that political conservatives may be more prone to selective exposure than liberals are, we find similar selective exposure motives on the political left and right across a variety of issues. The majority of people on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate willingly gave up a chance to win money to avoid hearing from the other side.”

The aversion to reading dissenting opinions applied almost equally across a broad spectrum of issues including gay marriage, the 2016 election, marijuana, global warming, gun control and abortion.

Participants determined that the emotional comfort they’d lose via exposure to contrary information was worth more to them than the money. One of the study’s authors, Matt Motyl, described this phenomenon as “motivated ignorance.”

“They don’t know what’s going on the other side, and they don’t want to know,” Dr. Jeremy Frimer, the University of Winnipeg psychologist involved in the research, told Vox.

Researchers concluded that the lack of interest participants had in hearing the other side’s point of view was not because they already understood the opposition’s argument. Instead, participants thought hearing the other side’s point of view would create cognitive dissonance and frustration.

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7 comments

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7 Comments

  • Stephen C.
    May 16, 2017, 2:56 pm

    Not sure this proves much. This was only for a *chance* of an insignificant sum… the expected value would likely be far less than minimum wage, so I would not expect many people to go out of their own way over something so trifling. What if it was for certain money, and enough to be of significant utility?

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  • Vilified@Stephen C.
    May 18, 2017, 10:19 pm

    Yet… That’s the point. They were so unwilling to read an opposing viewpoint they wouldn’t even take a chance at making some money for it. The point isn’t that they wouldn’t take the small amount of money, It is that people shouldn’t need any incentive to seek understanding of their opposition’s viewpoint.

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  • Stephen C.@Vilified
    May 19, 2017, 7:56 am

    That’s a stupid point. It’s a low chance of making an insignificant sum of money. Time is valuable. Who is to say they have not already read their opposition’s viewpoint and wholly rejected it? Why spend time doing something *probably* for free that adds no value? This study seems rather meaningless, because it does not control for any of this.

    I know I’ve read enough of my opponents’ views to pretty much know exactly what they’re going to say (one of Jonathan Haidt’s interesting findings is that conservatives and libertarians are excellent at predicting progressives’ responses and opinions, but progressives have significantly more trouble doing the opposite).

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  • Vilified@Stephen C.
    May 19, 2017, 8:00 am

    Who is to say they have not already read their opposition’s viewpoint and wholly rejected it?

    The study and article say the subjects admitted to not being knowledgeable about the subject.

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  • wendygoerl@Stephen C.
    May 19, 2017, 3:22 pm

    They’ve already agreed to participate in the study, and they’re probably going to spend the same amount of time reading one way or the other. The whole point of a scientific experiment is to minimize all the variables that you’re not trying to measure.

    That “stupid” point is the entire basis of the study. Do you read an article that matches your viewpoint for a chance at $7, or an article that opposed your viewpoint for a chance at $10? If you’re a participant in the study, you’ve ALREADY AGREED to do one or the other. The ONLY decision is WHICH ONE.

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