Selective Exposure to Communication

By Dolf Henry Zillmann; Jennings P. Bryant | Go to book overview

2
Cognitive Dissonance in Selective Exposure

John L. Cotton Purdue University

In using information, we are seldom passive absorbers of data; rather, we selectively seek, choose, and screen the information we use. Although this is typically done to avoid irrelevant or useless information, there are often occasions when information is selected on the basis of its agreeable nature, and not its intrinsic value. One explanation for this selective exposure comes from the theory of cognitive dissonance developed by Leon Festinger ( 1957). This chapter reviews the research on selective exposure to information, focusing on Festinger's theory and the research it generated. From this review, we can determine whether this type of selective exposure occurs and examine other factors that may affect it.

Festinger's ( 1957) theory states that when a person holds two cognitions that are incompatible or inconsistent, an uncomfortable arousal, or dissonance, is produced. The cognitions can be attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge about one's behavior, or any other knowledge about oneself or the environment. When the person becomes aware that two or more of these cognitions are contradictory, dissonance is created. The magnitude of this dissonance depends on the importance of the cognitions involved. Because the dissonance is uncomfortable, the person will try to reduce it, often by modifying one of the cognitions.

Consider someone who believes he or she is essentially a good and truthful person, but has just lied to someone else ( Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959). Dissonance will occur because of the opposing cognitions: (a) "I'm a good, truthful person." (b) "I just lied to this person." The dissonance, or uncomfortable arousal, will motivate the person to do something to reduce it. In this case, the person might rationalize, "I had to lie in order to avoid hurting them; it's just a little white lie."

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Selective Exposure to Communication
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Contributors ix
  • Preface xi
  • 1 - Selective-Exposure Phenomena 1
  • 2 - Cognitive Dissonance in Selective Exposure 11
  • References 31
  • 3 - Measuring Exposure to Television 35
  • References 58
  • 4 - Informational Utility and Selective Exposure to Entertainment Media 63
  • References 88
  • 5 - Determinants of Television Viewing Preferences 93
  • References 110
  • 6 - Thought and Action as Determinants of Media Exposure 113
  • References 136
  • 7 - Fear of Victimization and the Appeal of Crime Drama 141
  • References 154
  • 8 - Affect, Mood, and Emotion as Determinants of Selective Exposure 157
  • References 187
  • 9 - Selective Exposure to Educational Television 191
  • References 200
  • 10 - Cable and Program Choice 203
  • References 223
  • 11 - "Play It Again, Sam": Repeated Exposure to Television Programs 225
  • Acknowledgment 241
  • Author Index 243
  • Subject Index 249
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