Increasing political polarization is driven in part by voters selectively seeking views that support their preexisting beliefs and avoiding opposing views. Across several experiments, Dorison et al. found that people overestimate how upset they will be from being exposed to views from the opposing political party. For example, Clinton voters overestimated how upset they would be from watching Donald Trump’s inaugural address or reading statements by Trump voters. This bias in affective forecasting occurs because voters underestimate their level of agreement with people from the opposite party. Correcting voters’ affective forecasts increased their engagement with opposing views. These results have implications for fostering dialogue and reducing political polarization.
The Dorison et al. abstract:
People preferentially consume information that aligns with their prior beliefs, contributing to polarization and undermining democracy. Five studies (collective N = 2455) demonstrate that such “selective exposure” partly stems from faulty affective forecasts. Specifically, political partisans systematically overestimate the strength of negative affect that results from exposure to opposing views. In turn, these incorrect forecasts drive information consumption choices. Clinton voters overestimated the negative affect they would experience from watching President Trump’s Inaugural Address (Study 1) and from reading statements written by Trump voters (Study 2). Democrats and Republicans overestimated the negative affect they would experience from listening to speeches by opposing-party senators (Study 3). People’s tendency to underestimate the extent to which they agree with opponents’ views drove the affective forecasting error. Finally, correcting biased affective forecasts reduced selective exposure by 24–34% (Studies 4 and 5).
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