Communication and persuasion processes

20.07.2020

Communication and persuasion processes depend a lot on how and to what degree the message impacts the audience. One of the fundamental variables that intervenes in this process is the exposure, voluntary or involuntary, of the receiver to the message.

It can be defined as selective exposure to the cognitive process that makes us tend to seek, accept and attend to messages that are consistent with their beliefs and attitudes, avoiding information that calls into question what they believe in.

Below we will take a closer look at this particular form of cognitive bias, in addition to reflecting on whether today, at a time when new technologies have taken away the monopoly on information from major brands, this process has been strengthened.

What is selective exposure?

The term selective exposure refers to the tendency of people to expose themselves to ideologically related information, opinions or media, or that offer a way of giving information that the person is in favor of. This information is selected to reinforce pre-existing points of view , and with the intention of avoiding all information that is contradictory to or critical of one's opinion.

This idea is closely related to confirmation bias, which in essence is nothing more than looking for information that confirms our position. According to this idea, when we are presented with certain information for the first time, we dissect it and establish how close or contrary it is to our way of seeing the world. We opt for the one that has favorable evidence to what we think, omitting, ignoring or rejecting the one that is unfavorable.

Selective exposure can be related to cognitive dissonance, a concept defined by Leon Festinger , which is the internal tension or disharmony in the system of ideas, beliefs, emotions and, in general, cognitions that the person perceives when they have two thoughts at the same time that are in conflict. The person, who will already have a predetermined stance towards a certain fact or opinion, will continue to look for information that does not make them question their pre-established opinion.

It should be said that if the messages are slightly inconsistent with the individual's previous beliefs but appear to be interesting, novel or useful, the person is likely to voluntarily expose themselves to them and attend to them. The more novel the message and the less commitment the recipient has to their attitudes on the subject matter, the more likely they will be to expose themselves to this information and accept it .

The impact of new technologies

Before the emergence of the Internet in our lives, the media such as television channels, radio stations and newspapers were the vehicles through which the large audience received information. People could be manipulated by what a medium said, reflect on what was said in a debate program, change the channel or station or relativize what had been said. With a limited supply of media, it was very difficult to find a radio program, television channel or a newspaper whose ideology or way of seeing things coincided 100% with one's vision.

Still, there was always the option to watch certain media. Preferences ended up prevailing on a day-to-day basis, making everyone select more or less consciously the means that they allowed to influence their opinion or, as usually happens, that were more or less in sync with what they had previously thought . However, this panorama has been weakening over time, only being applicable to elderly people whose main entertainment is analog.

Nowadays, the appearance of new technologies coming from the hand of the great irruption of the Internet has made it possible for people to have much more information available and, among all that information, it is expected that there is something that is extremely coincident with our point of view. view. By having more social networks, digital newspapers, YouTube channels and similar platforms, people have a much greater range of information possibilities, allowing us to be more selective than ever.

This idea has been defended by many critics with new technologies. Despite the fact that the supply of information is much greater and that, in principle, it would allow us to have a greater facility to expand our horizons, there are those who argue that, in reality, what this would do would be to make us focus even more on our opinion, We would only look for related means and we would be more intolerant with opinions that we do not share.

Far from broadening our perspective, the enormous amount of new media would make us take extreme refuge in the evidence that confirmed our way of seeing the world, now easily locatable by putting our opinion in the search engine and finding a host of media that say exactly the same thing as we think. We have more evidence than ever that we are right , and the rest are totally wrong or have failed to document well.

The strength of the plurality of ideas

Although it is true that we have more capacity to select information and we have more facilities to search for personalized content, there is a problem in thinking that selective exposure is stronger than ever: assuming that people always have a preference for related information. This is quite debatable, since, really, there are not few occasions in which people are interested in points of view different from ours .

This phenomenon has been investigated and seems not to be as strong as one might initially think. In fact, on more than one occasion people deliberately seek critical information with what they think in order to get a utilitarian advantage from it . For example, if we want to study a career and we had initially opted for psychology, to avoid enrolling in a career that perhaps in the end we do not like, we will seek opinions that criticize it with objective data, or that recommend other options.

It should also be said that the idea of selective exposure confers a kind of "super power" on people: being able to recognize ideologically related media the first time they observe it. It is normal that if we are veteran readers of a newspaper, blog or any other source of information for years we know, more or less, what ideology is behind it. On the other hand, if it is the first time that we see them, we will not be able to identify their opinion or ideology as soon as we see it. We will need to be exposed a little more and even dig into other articles, videos or blog posts to have a more general vision.

With new technologies it is much easier to expose yourself to a wide repertoire of opinions, especially thanks to hyperlinks. It is very frequent that we pay more attention to the title of an article than to the newspaper that publishes it, as long as that title suggests a position that is radically opposed to ours. By clicking and clicking, we ended up very far from the first page we have visited, and along the way we have exposed ourselves to the most varied information.

Another interesting aspect of the Internet is that media such as social networks expose their users to other points of view, especially because their own users discuss among themselves or make posts / threads commenting on a politically debatable topic. These entradillas end up being commented on by other users , supporters or opponents of what has been said in them, and thus a debate expands that, of course, could not have been possible if there had not been people who had been exposed to content that He did not like it and he feels the need to make a criticism.

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