Side-by-side arguments do not persuade, but entrench those with firm positions

This is nothing we didn’t already suspect but many news outlets still think this works.

‘Balanced’ News Reports May Only Inflame – NYTimes.com.

Liberals viewing MSNBC or reading left-of-center blogs may well end up embracing liberal talking points even more firmly; conservative fans of Fox News may well react in similar fashion on the right.

The result can be a situation in which beliefs do not merely harden but migrate toward the extreme ends of the political spectrum. As current events in the Middle East demonstrate, discussions among like-minded people can ultimately produce violence.

The remedy for easing such polarization, here and abroad, may seem straightforward: provide balanced information to people of all sides. Surely, we might speculate, such information will correct falsehoods and promote mutual understanding

Unfortunately, evidence suggests that balanced presentations — in which competing arguments or positions are laid out side by side — may not help. At least when people begin with firmly held convictions, such an approach is likely to increase polarization rather than reduce it.

What explains this? The answer is called “biased assimilation,” which means that people assimilate new information in a selective fashion. When people get information that supports what they initially thought, they give it considerable weight. When they get information that undermines their initial beliefs, they tend to dismiss it.

Tip: DJ Grothe

Ugh. Not good news. How to convince people that their ideas are mistaken or introduce the concept of another view? Not easy and it may only take time, persistence and repetition.

Give this a look, the Debunking Handbook, for some good ideas about how to frame your message to counteract misinformation.

  1 comment for “Side-by-side arguments do not persuade, but entrench those with firm positions

  1. One Eyed Jack
    September 19, 2012 at 9:04 AM

    Add the tag, “Well Duh!” to this story.

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