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Presenting Conflicting Information…Or Maybe Not

From the Mediation Matters Blog of Steve Mehta.

A recent study provides some serious evidence that Americans prefer to read articles that agree with the opinions they already hold.

Researchers found that people spent 36 percent more time reading articles that agreed with their point of view than they did reading text that challenged their opinions.  Even when they read articles contrary to their view, they went back to data that supported their original views.

“We found that people generally chose media messages that reinforced their own preexisting views,” said Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, co-author of the study and associate professor of communication at Ohio State University.

“In general, they don’t want their views to be challenged by seriously

The results showed that participants clicked on an average of 1.9 articles that agreed with their views, and 1.4 articles that didn’t.  The participants had a 58 percent likelihood of picking an article that supported their viewpoint, versus 43 percent likelihood of choosing an article challenging their beliefs.

Participants were most likely to read only articles that were consistent with their views, the study showed.  Next most common was reading both views on an issue.  Very few people only clicked on articles that opposed their views.

According to the study, people who reported that they read news more frequently, on the other hand, were more likely to avoid opposing viewpoints.

“People have more media choices these days, and they can choose to only be exposed to messages that agree with their current beliefs,” Knobloch-Westerwick said.  “If you only pay attention to messages you agree with, that can make you more extreme in your viewpoints, because you never consider the other side,” she said.

This research has interesting implications for conflict resolution.  One specific thing that comes to mind is that it suggests that in conflict scenarios where people have entrenched beliefs as to the merits of their case, they are not inclined to listen to contrary views.  As the research suggests, although they may initially listen to the other side has to say, they may still resort back to their original beliefs and consciously look for evidence that supports their belief.

This principle is very closely connected to the concept of reactive devaluation, where a person devalues what the opposing side has to say about a topic.  These two concepts together can make a very difficult scenario to break through when trying to resolve the conflict.

Participants in conflict resolution need to be aware of these biases when trying to come to a mutually agreeable resolution.

One way to address these biases is to first listen to the other side’s views without attack.  This enables you to gain respect and to show that you respect their opinion.

In addition, if you are providing information that is contrary to the other side’s belief, try to provide the bad news after you have given the good news about their case.  For example, your argument about the Causation is very good.  However, there could be problems with Negligence.  This method will allow you to gain credibility by accepting their initial position, and then as a proponent of that position presenting a problem.

Research Source:

Americans Choose Media Messages That Agree With Their Views. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 25, 2009, from


Steve Mehta

Steven G. Mehta is an attorney and mediator providing unique mediation services in a variety of types of civil litigation. His ability to understand the human process and complex emotional issues involved in legal negotiations enables him to effectively assist the parties in obtaining the best possible results during mediation.… MORE >

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