Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Do Lay People Prepare Both Sides of an Argument? the Effects of Confidence, Forewarning, and Expected Interaction on Seeking out Counter-Attitudinal Information

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Do Lay People Prepare Both Sides of an Argument? the Effects of Confidence, Forewarning, and Expected Interaction on Seeking out Counter-Attitudinal Information

Article excerpt


Debaters consider it axiomatic that in order to argue effectively people must research all sides of an issue. In fact, studies suggest that persuasive messages presenting two sides of an issue are more effective than messages only presenting one side of an argument (Allen, 1991; O'Keefe, 1999). Although debaters are trained in effective ways to research and present all sides of an issue (Kuhn, 2005), lay arguers are not (typically) formally trained in such methods (Kuhn, 1991). Even worse, selective exposure research suggests that lay arguers might not want to search out counter-attitudinal information. People often purposely avoid information that they disagree with or that distresses them (Turner, Rimal, Morrison & Kim, 2006). This is unfortunate; information that is clearly biased in favor of one's own initial attitude can be risky. At best, searching out only pro-attitudinal information leaves individuals uninformed; at worst, it leaves people unaware of potential dangers, warnings, or salient information about a given issue (Jonas, Schulz-Hardt, Frey, & Thelen, 2001). Moreover, biased information search processes, such as selective exposure, lead to belief maintenance whether the position is justified on the basis of the existing information or not (Jonas et al., 2001).

The focus of this experiment is to examine the conditions under which people are likely to examine information that is counter-attitudinal. Participants were led to believe that they would be either writing an argumentative piece to the editor of a school newspaper or that they would be arguing (i.e., debating) with another participant face to face. Prior to the interaction or letter writing, participants were allowed to read and study articles (as many as they chose) that represented either side of the issue. Our central interest is in the factors precluding individuals' decision to examine information inconsistent with their opinion.


According to Zillmann and Bryant (1985), selective exposure is the decision to avoid information that is inharmonious with one's own views or to only expose oneself to information consistent with one's pre-established viewpoints. Selective exposure to information was first investigated by Feather (1963) in a study regarding exposure to either consistent or inconsistent (what he termed dissonant or consonant) lung cancer information by smokers and non-smokers. Feather's data indicated that smokers were more interested in information about smoking than were non-smokers. Brock (1965) conducted a similar study whereby half of the participants were instructed to indicate their message preferences, and the other half were instructed that they would actually be reading the selected messages. Their results revealed that when participants believed they would be reading the information, they chose consonant information, whereas this selective exposure effect did not emerge when participants did not think they would have to actually read the message. Also, Sweeney and Gruber (1984) presented evidence showing that interest and attention to the Watergate hearings were highest among McGovern supporters and lowest among Nixon's supporters. Cappella, Turow and Jamieson's (1996) data revealed that 70 percent of Limbaugh's listeners were conservative. These aforementioned studies each provide evidence as to when people will selectively avoid information, but we extend this rationale to when people will selectively expose themselves to information prior to developing an argument.

With regard to understanding the strategies of lay (i.e., informal) arguers, Kuhn's work has been seminal (Kuhn, Shaw, & Felton, 1997; Kuhn & Udell, 2003; Kuhn, Weinstock, & Flaton, 1994). Kuhn and her colleagues have established that, generally speaking, lay people are unsophisticated in their arguing skills. …

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