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Prof: People reject news which conflicts with beliefs

Utter rubbish, according to open-minded observers

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It's well known that people have a tendency to seek out information which confirms what they already believe. Beancurd-scoffing hippies read the Guardian; mindless bigoted reactionaries read the Daily Mail; people who feel that the IT industry would benefit from the involvement of Paris Hilton in some way read the Reg.

But now, researchers in Illinois have formally quantified this trend.

"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," says Illinois Uni psychology prof Dolores Albarracín.

She and her colleagues reviewed 91 different previous studies involving 8,000 respondents. They found that yes, people generally do prefer information that supports their own point of view. Respondents in the various surveys cited were about twice as likely to express a preference for news or information they agreed with, compared to data which upset them.

People are a bit more open-minded on subjects which they don't see as touching on moral values, however.

"If the issues concern moral values or politics, about 70 per cent of the time you will choose congenial information, versus about 60 per cent of the time if the issues are not related to values," according to Albarracín.

The prof added that, counterintuitively, it is those with little confidence in their own beliefs who are least willing to consider opposing views. People who are sure they're right are actually more likely to listen to the other side of an argument.

Presumably this research has only a one-third chance of being accepted by people who consider the population - and by extension themselves - to be generally open-minded.

Prof Albarracín and her colleagues' research can be read here in pdf. ®

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