Study: Liberals and conservatives will forgo money to safeguard their ideological bubble

It appears that narrow-mindedness is a bipartisan trait. New research has found that both liberals and conservatives are equally motivated to avoid exposure to one
another’s opinions. The study appears in the peer-reviewed Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

“Most people don’t know and don’t want to know what the ‘other side’ has to say,” said the study’s corresponding author, Jeremy A. Frimer of the University of Winnipeg. “Liberals and conservatives are similarly biased in this way. People stick to consuming congenial information because it makes them feel better than hearing from the other side, and because it allows people to experience a shared sense of reality and therefore connect with others.”

In the study, which consisted of five separate experiments, both liberals and conservatives willingly gave up a chance to win money to avoid hearing the opinions of their political rivals. The opinions were related to same-sex marriage, presidential elections, abortion, gun control, and legalizing marijuana.

Only about one-third of the participants accepted a chance to win extra money by hearing from the other side, regardless of their political orientation.

Frimer told PsyPost that the research was inspired by his own experience in academia.

“I was chatting with a liberal philosophy professor about what it means to be intellectually humble,” he explained. “I wondered out loud about thinking of intellectual humility as being willing and even interested in hearing from people who hold opposing views. He reacted strongly, stating that he didn’t even want to hear what opponents of same-sex marriage had to say.

“I was speechless. The juxtaposition of an expert of philosophy (literally meaning ‘love of knowledge’) and a desire to avoid knowledge caught me off guard. That conversation inspired Study 1 (specifically) and the whole project more generally.”

Some previous research had indicated that political conservatives were more prone to ignore conflicting viewpoints. But Frimer and his colleagues found no difference between liberals and conservatives.

The researchers were also able to rule out the possibility that people didn’t want to hear opposing viewpoints because they already knew them. Instead, people feared experiencing cognitive dissonance.

About 2,400 people from the United States and Canada participated in the study.

Frimer said the study did have one notable caveat. One side might have a legitimate reason to ignore the other side.

“The biggest caveat to me is that the views of conservatives — especially from Trump and his supporters — may not be of the same quality as the view of liberals,” he told PsyPost. “I think the emergence of Trump and his alternative facts has made this gap even larger. That said, liberals might still benefit from listening to Republicans. Being knowledgeable can prepare liberals for debate. Listening can be disarming. And dare I say that liberals may even learn a thing or two from conservatives.”

Frimer also sees opportunities for future research.

“I wonder about how to pop these information bubbles and get people talking to one another again. I wonder about whether social media will cause more echo chambering, or whether there might be a way to use social media to facilitate dialogue.”

The study, “Liberals and conservatives are similarly motivated to avoid exposure to one another’s opinions“, was also co-authored by Linda J. Skitka and Matt Motyl.