Look who’s talking
- Trouble mounts for Sreesanth as Mumbai cops gather more evidence
- SIT to seek Supreme Court guidance on Maya Kodnani death penalty issue
- Tamil Nadu police bans Yasin Malik-linked pro-Eelam public meeting
- Kings XI Punjab end IPL 2013 campaign with a win
- Narendra Modi: India losing sheen as agricultural nation
It is well known that when like-minded people get together, they tend to end up thinking a more extreme version of what they thought before they started to talk. The same kind of echo-chamber effect can happen as people get news from various media. Liberals viewing MSNBC or reading left-of-centre blogs may well end up embracing liberal talking points even more firmly; conservative fans of Fox News may well react in similar fashion on the right.
The result can be a situation in which beliefs do not merely harden but migrate toward the extreme ends of the political spectrum. As current events in the Middle East demonstrate, discussions among like-minded people can ultimately produce violence.
The remedy for easing such polarisation, here and abroad, may seem straightforward: provide balanced information to people of all sides. Surely, we might speculate, such information will correct falsehoods and promote mutual understanding. This, of course, has been a hope of countless dedicated journalists and public officials.
Unfortunately, evidence suggests that balanced presentations — in which competing arguments or positions are laid out side by side — may not help. At least when people begin with firmly held convictions, such an approach is likely to increase polarisation rather than reduce it.
Indeed, that's what a number of academic studies done over the last three decades have found. Such studies typically proceed in three stages. First, the experimenters assemble a group of people who have clear views on some controversial issue (such as capital punishment or sexual orientation). Second, the study subjects are provided with plausible arguments on both sides of the issue. And finally, the researchers test how attitudes have shifted as a result of exposure to balanced presentations.
You might expect that people's views would soften and that divisions between groups would get smaller. That is not what usually happens. On the contrary, people's original beliefs tend to harden and the original divisions typically get bigger. Balanced presentations can fuel unbalanced views.
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- BCCI suspects Gujarat players in other teams were also approached
- Mumbai police say they too may seek custody of arrested pacer
- Chhattisgarh 'encounter' leaves 8 villagers dead, no Maoist link yet