Selective exposure theory

Selective exposure theory

Selective exposure theory is a theory of communication, positing that individuals prefer exposure to arguments supporting their position over those supporting other positions. It has been discussed by communication scholars for decades. Since excessive amount of media choices are available in the 21st Century, media consumers have more privileges to expose themselves to selected medium and media contents.

quote="It is crucial that communication scholars arrive at a more comprehensive and deeper understanding of consumer selectivity if we are to have any hope of mastering entertainment theory in the next iteration of the information age. Essentially, understanding selective-exposure theory is a prerequisite for constructing a useful psychology of entertainment."|source=Bryant and Davies, 2006 [Bryant J., & Davies, J. (2006). Selective Exposure Processes. In J. Bryant & P. Vorderer (Eds.), "Psychology of entertainment",p. 19. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.] |


Foundation of theory

Propaganda study

The Evasion of Propaganda

When prejudiced people confront anti-prejudice propaganda involuntarily, even though they might avoid the message from the first time, the process of evasion would occur in their mind. Cooper and Jahoda (1947) studied how the anti-prejudice propaganda can be misunderstood by prejudiced people. When the prejudiced reader confronted the Mr. Biggott cartoon, which contained anti-minority propaganda, their effort to evade their feelings and understand Mr. Biggott’s identification with their own identity would bring about misunderstanding. This kind of evasion occurs because individuals often have to face to accomplish uniformity in various area of his or her everyday life. There is a fear to be isolated from what they belong and also threat for shivering their ego. Therefore, the concept of selective exposure was in the same thread with small effect studies in mass communication in 1940s.

Cognitive dissonance theory

Before the selective exposure theory was put forward, Festinger(1957) published a book, "Theory of Cognitive Dissonance", and explained the cognitive dissonance theory, which assumes that all human beings pursue consistency in their mind.

* Basic Hypotheses
** The existence of dissonance, being psychologically uncomfortable, will motivate the person to try to reduce the dissonance and achieve consonance.
** When dissonance is present, in addition to trying to reduce it, the person will actively avoid situations and information which would likely increase the dissonance. [ Festinger, L. (1957). "A theory of cognitive dissonance", p. 5, Evanston, IL: Row & Peterson.]

Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory, which was one of the roots of selective exposure, explained people’s effort to reduce their dissonance of something against their existing beliefs. Nonetheless, his theory was broader enough to be elucidated in general social behavior, not just for selecting medium and media contents. Festinger suggested situations that raise the dissonance. Firstly, logical inconsistency brings about dissonance. If one believes it is not possible for man to build a device to leave the atmosphere of the earth and he or she observes the man reach the moon, these two elements are dissonant with one another. Secondly, cultural mores entail dissonance. A person pick up a chicken bone with his or her hands and it is dissonant with what he or she believed as a formal etiquette. At this point, culture defines what is consonant and what is dissonant. Thirdly, if specific opinion is included in a more general opinion, dissonance should be followed. A person, who has been Democrat, prefers Republican candidates for certain election. This situation creates dissonance, because “Being a Democrat” needs to be attributed to favoring Democratic candidates. Lastly, past experience causes dissonance. If a person is standing in the rain and not yet wet, these two cognitions would be dissonant, because he or she might know standing in the rain leads to getting wet through past experience. Festinger (1957) also suggests the ways of reducing dissonance. For reducing dissonance, one may change a behavioral cognitive element or change an environmental cognitive element. However, sometimes, behavior change and environmental change do not help reducing dissonance. Festinger, then, suggested adding new cognitive elements. If people cannot reduce dissonance, they might seek new information, which is consonant with their beliefs or attitude; therefore, people might actively seek new information that would decrease dissonance and avoid new information that would increase dissonance. This third explanation of reducing dissonance is similar with selective exposure, which mass communication reinforces the existing opinion.

Klapper's selective exposure

Joseph Klapper (1960) considered mass communication do not directly influence people, but just reinforce people’s predisposition. Mass communications play a role as a mediator in persuasive communication.

* Klapper's five mediating factors and conditions to affect people
** Predispositions and the related processes of selective exposure, selective perception, and selective retention.
** The groups, and the norms of groups, to which the audience members belong.
** Interpersonal dissemination of the content of communication
** The exercise of opinion leadership
** The nature of mass media in a free enterprise society. [ Klapper, J. T. (1960). "The effects of mass communication", p. 19, New York: Free Press. ]

* Three basic concepts
** Selective exposure - people keep away from communication of opposite hue.
** Selective Perception - If people are confronting unsympathetic material, they do not perceive it, or make it fit for their existing opinion.
** Selective retention - Furthermore, they just simply forget the unsympathetic material. Groups and group norms work as a mediator. For example, one cannot simply change political party to Democratic Party, if his or her family has voted for Republican for a long time. In this case, person’s predisposition to the political party is already set, so he or she will not perceive information about Democratic Party or change voting behavior because of mass communication. Klapper’s third assumption is inter-personal dissemination of mass communication. If someone is already exposed by close friends, which creates predisposition toward something, it will lead increase of exposure to mass communication and eventually reinforce the existing opinion. Opinion leader is also a crucial factor to form predisposition of someone, lead someone to be exposed by mass communication, and after all, existing opinion would be reinforced. Nature of commercial mass media also leads people to select certain type of media contents. Klapper (1960) claimed that people are selecting entertainment, such as family comedy, variety shows, quizzes, and Westerns, because of nature of mass media in a free enterprise society.

Selective exposure in entertainment theory perspective

Selective exposure is an instinctive activity of human beings. Early human beings needed to be sensitive to the sounds of animals. This kind of exposure was closely related with their survival from an external threat. Survival is still a very crucial matter for human beings; however, selective exposure is also important for human beings for other purposes, such as entertainment. Quote_box|width=70%|align=center|quote="Selective exposure designates behavior that is deliberately performed to attain and sustain perceptual control of particular stimulus events."|source=Zillmann and Bryant, 1985 [Zillmann, D., & Bryant, J. (1985). Selective Exposure Phenomana. In D. Zillmann & J. Bryant (Eds.), "Selective xposure to communication",p. 2, Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.] |

Affective-dependent theory of stimulus arrangement

Zillmann and Bryant (1985) developed affective-dependent theory of stimulus arrangement in the chapter of their edited book, Selective exposure to communication.

*Basic Assumptions
** people tend to minimize exposure to negative, aversive stimuli
** people tend to maximize exposure to pleasurable stimuli.

After all, people try to arrange the external stimuli to maintain their pleasure, which ultimately let people select certain affect-inducing program, such as music, movie, or other entertainment program. In other words, people manage their mood by selecting certain kind of entertainment to exposure themselves; mood management theory was also rooted by this affective-dependent theory.

Selective exposure processes in mood management

** Excitatory Homeostasis - Tendency of individuals to choose entertainment to achieve and optimal level of arousal.
** Intervention Potential - Ability of a message to engage or absorb an aroused individual's attention or cognitive-processing resources.
** Message-Behavioral Affinity - Communication that has a high degree of similarity with affective state.
** Hedonic Valence - Positive or negative nature of a message. [Bryant J., & Davies, J. (2006). Selective Exposure Processes. In J. Bryant & P. Vorderer (Eds.), "Psychology of entertainment", pp. 26-27, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.]


* Possible influence by factors other than a person's emotional state.
* Difficulty to measure long-term effect.
* Overlook the importance of cognitive processes.
* Not suit for information and education media.
* Possibility that negative stimuli provide enjoyment by overcoming it.

See also

* Mood management theory
* Empathy



*Bryant, J., & Davies, J. (2006). Selective exposure processes. In J. Bryant & P. Vorderer (Eds.), "Psychology of entertainment" (pp. 19-33). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
*Cooper, E., & Jahoda, M. (1947). The evasion of propaganda: How prejudiced people respond to anti-prejudice propaganda. "Journal of Psychology", 23, 15-25.
*Festinger, L. (1957). "A theory of cognitive dissonance." Evanston, IL: Row & Peterson.
*Katz, E. (1968). On reopening the question of selectivity in exposure to mass communication. In R. P. Abelson, E. Aronson, W. J. McGuire, T. M. Newcomb, M. J. Rosenberg, & P. H. Tannenbaum (Eds.), "Theories of cognitive consistency: A sourcebook" (pp. 788-796). Chicago: Rand McNally and Company.
*Klapper, J. T. (1960). The effects of mass communication. New York: Free Press.
*Lazarsfeld, P. (1940). Radio and the printed page. New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce.
*Lazarsfeld, P., Berelson, B., & Gaudet, H. (1968). "The people's choice: How the voter makes up his mind in a presidential campaign (3rd ed.)". New York: Columbia University Press.
*Zillmann, D., & Bryant, J. (Eds.) (1985). "Selective exposure to communication" (pp. 533-567). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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