Societal Implications: Selecting Our Own Science: How Communication Contexts and Individual Traits Shape Information Seeking (2014)

Sara K. Yeo, Michael A. Xenos, Dominique Brossard, Dietram A. Scheufele

Understanding how selective exposure to different media messages works, and the processes and mechanisms involved, is essential to grasping how public opinion and attitudes toward science and technology are formed. This study explores variations in the circumstances under which partisan confirmation bias and defensive avoidance occur when individuals encounter media messages reporting on nanotechnology. Through an experiment with a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population, research conducted by the Societal Implications group finds that partisan cues affect what science news audiences opt to read. This study examines partisan media consumption processes in the context of a scientific issue with which most Americans are unfamiliar, nanotechnology. The researchers manipulate the extent to which participants receive clear ideological cues contextualizing a news article, and explore their subsequent information seeking behavior. The results provide insights into patterns of partisan media use and its underlying mechanisms. When partisan cues clarifying the political stakes of nanotechnology are made available, individuals are willing to read information from countervailing sources. However, when such cues are lacking, conservatives are significantly less likely to opt for a headline from MSNBC compared to liberals. Instead, they are more likely to select a headline from Fox News. The significance of these findings for communicating about nanotechnology is outlined.


Ternary plot showing interactive effect of partisan cueing and ideology on the selection rate of MSNBC, Fox News, or CBC. The apices of the graph represent a selection rate of 1.0 for each of the respective channels.