It is reasonably common knowledge that there is a lack of understanding between different groups in society, whether that be decided by nationality, faith or some other factor, but how much are people really doing about it?

People Read What They Want to Hear

picture from University of Oxford News

How often do you subconsciously choose to read something because you share the writer’s views? More than you think. Whether you’re a Tory reading the Daily Telegraph, or a Labour supporter reading The Guardian, we’re all guilty of it. In a society full of many different people each with a different set of beliefs and values, we need to be able to understand each other’s perspectives. But how can we do this if people are naturally inclined to only see the world through their own eyes, and the eyes of people they already agree with?

So how far do people actually go to avoid contrary viewpoints? In May this year, the Journal of Experimental Psychological Science carried out an experiment in the US to see exactly this. The way it worked was that the people involved in the experiment were presented with a choice of two articles reflecting different views on same-sex marriage. They were told that they could either read the article they agreed with and be entered for a $7 prize draw, or read the article they didn’t agree with and be entered for a $10 prize draw. Incredibly, 63% of the people chose to read the article they agreed with at the expense of the opportunity to win more money.

The experiment provides indisputable evidence that people are drawn to articles that match their own perspective, and we assume that this is because they are more self-affirming and comforting. An author of the study, Matt Motyl, referred to this as “motivated ignorance”. In other words, people regard the emotional comfort they could lose by being exposed to an alternative point of view as being of more value than the additional $3.

Bearing this in mind, is it any wonder that there are still huge divides in society with regards to race, sexuality and gender, just to name a few, when people are so narrow-minded in what they choose to read or learn about? How can we expect to see a change in people’s attitudes when the only attitudes they are familiar with are their own?

I feel that a lack of mutual understanding between different sections of society is a major problem that we all have a duty to try and overcome. We all ought to step away from the comfort of reading only news that reinforces our own views and instead try to learn more about other people’s.

By Lucy Higginbotham