The selective exposure paradox: Prior attitude, eye movements, and attitude polarization

Yu-Yin Shen, Chen-Chao Tao

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


In the present article we used eye-tracking technology to assess the different attention allocation patterns among partisans and their effect on attitude polarization. The concept of selective exposure was derived from cognitive dissonance, which was first proposed by Festinger (1962). It is known that in order to decrease the unpleasant feeling caused by dissonance, people would seek congenial information instead of uncongenial ones and therefore cause the selective exposure behavior. Prior selective studies mainly focused on the confirmation bias and used reading time or the number of messages accessed by voters to measure selective exposure.

A 2-session study examined the relations among prior attitude, partisanship, selective exposure, and attitude polarization. In the session 1 pre-survey, participants were asked to report their attitudes toward some controversial policies and policy importance, attitude certainty, news using habits, political interest, and demographics. In the session 2 eye tracking experiment, participants were invited to the lab. Participants' eye movements were recorded unobtrusively during the second session, the in-lab study.

Results showed that attitude-consistent articles about abortion and minimum wage were read for a significantly longer time. However, when participants were simultaneously presented with attitude-consistent and attitude-discrepant messages confirmation bias decreased, which corresponded to prior studies about presentation styles. We further found the effect differed by issues. Interaction effect was found among partisanship, prior attitude, and selective exposure on the issues of gun control: Republicans and Independents who opposed gun control performed longer selective exposure to attitude-consistent messages which resulted in attitude polarization. Those who supported gun control had shorter selective exposure to attitude-consistent messages, resulting in attitude attenuation. The results of our eye movement analysis also indicate that there was no significant polarization for the Democrats in our sample.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages66
StatePublished - Jul 2017
Event68th annual conference of the International Communication Conference - Prague, Czech Republic
Duration: 24 May 201828 May 2018


Conference68th annual conference of the International Communication Conference
Country/TerritoryCzech Republic


  • Selective exposure
  • Eye-tracking
  • Confirmation bias
  • Attitude polarization


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