International Society of Political Psychology

Conference Abstracts

The Effects of Social Networks on Information Processing and Attitudinal Bias

Stony Brook University

Conference: ISPP 2011
Affiliation: Julie Wronski, Stony Brook University; Lindsey Clark Levitan, Stony Brook University
Research Area: Political decision making

The people we associate with markedly motivate our behavior, influencing our outlooks and reactions to the political world. It is well established that individuals surrounded by like-minded others hold political attitudes that are more stable than people in attitudinally heterogeneous networks. Prior research suggests that these attitudinal differences reflect the information available in a social network: attitudinally congruent networks expose individuals to information supporting their own position, while heterogeneous networks provide information on both sides. In contrast, we suggest that individuals are not merely the passive recipients of information from others. The current study examines the effects of individuals’ networks on their methods of finding and processing political information using an information board paradigm within a motivated reasoning framework. We find that individuals in attitudinally heterogeneous social networks actively search for new information on a topic, whereas those in congruent networks seek out less information or no information at all. We also replicate prior findings of motivated reasoning and examine the extent to which such biases are influenced by network members’ views. Evidence of motivated reasoning in information processing, recall, and persuasion is reviewed. Our experimental results reveal that the attitudinal composition of one’s social network influences not just what political information one has access to, but also how well and impartially one seeks and processes that information. Implications for democratic citizenship are discussed.