condition in warfare where one only listens to those who
are already in lockstep agreement, reinforcing set beliefs
and creating a situation ripe for miscalculation.
-Jane's Defense Weekly
people only listen to people or broadcast programming that supports
their viewpoints, they become more polarized and less willing to consider
other (sometimes better informed) views.
This ongoing process, called incestuous amplification,
springs from three psychological defense mechanisms we'll discuss.
Over time, incestuous amplification makes the compromises necessary for progress within a democratic society less likely. In addition, this can degenerate into a closed-minded "us" and "them" mentality.
For the media there can be a ratings advantage in catering to and promoting the preferred beliefs of audience segments.
These people only want to hear from people they agree
with -- i.e., people who will not challenge their beliefs.
Therefore, the "hold" of these media outlets
over their particular audience grows and other media outlets are soon
seen as biased.
As the isolation
from other ideas continues and the confined views become more and
more dominant, the "thems" can become the enemy.
Throughout history we've seen how this can turn into
a need for "us" to save society from "them." This
can even develop into a patriotic or religious duty.
If the incestuous amplification expands,
as it has in some small segments of our society, generally spurred
on by subsections of the Internet,*
civil disobedience and violence in the name of what is believed as
being "right can become an accepted, even lauded response.
Incestuous amplification is almost always accompanied by the following three defense mechanisms.
The Personal Defense Mechanisms
First is selective exposure,
where individuals try to minimize exposure to ideas that run contrary
to their own beliefs.
In this way their views have little chance of being
challenged or changed, even though important new facts may emerge.
Those who try to limit their own exposure (or other
people's exposure) to new ideas may be creating a situation that actually
works against them in the long run.
Studies -- especially those associated with brainwashing
-- indicate that people who do not have a chance to compare and defend
their ideas are most apt to abandon them when they are confronted
with an opposing view -- even though that opposing view is unsound.
However, those who have had ample opportunity to test and defend
their views are most likely to hold on to them when they are challenged.
Interestingly, some radio talk show hosts screen their guests
so that no one who holds a view contrary to their own will be featured
on the show.
Rather than welcome the chance to confront what they
think is an inferior idea and stimulate thinking, they seem to fear
Thus, you can often tell how a secure a person is in
their personal beliefs by how well they tolerate opposing beliefs.
The second defense mechanism is selective
perception. In this case when individuals are presented with
ideas or data that contradict their beliefs, they refuse to "see"
or recognize the information.
If, despite their efforts, they have to confront these ideas, these individuals may try to discredit the source, or attribute the ideas to an incompetent, corrupt, or evil source.
Finally, there is selective recall.
Simply put, this where people tend to remember things that support
their viewpoints and conveniently forget those that don't.
For example, after a TV program is shown which contradicts
some of our personal beliefs, they tend to remember only those facts
that support our original beliefs. Or, they may remember "different
facts," and feel that the program actually supported our views.
All of these
defense mechanisms have been demonstrated in studies.
study done by the Pew Research Center found that people who regularly
watch Fox News were far more likely to distrust other news sources.
The study found that the level of mistrust among regular Fox News
listeners went significantly beyond the attitudes of the general population
-- Republicans or Democrats.
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