Effective judgment and decision making demands exposure to diverse information. Yet, a large interdisciplinary literature makes clear that individuals often avoid information that contradicts their prior beliefs, a tendency referred to as selective exposure. Prior research has focused on intrapersonal drivers of selective exposure, including avoidance of cognitive dissonance. We take a complementary approach by investigating the interpersonal drivers of selective exposure. Drawing on the fact that individuals care deeply about their reputations, we test a social signaling model of selective exposure, hypothesizing that (1) individuals shift their information consumption choices to signal to observers and (2) observers reward such shifts. In the context of partisan politics in the United States, three financially-incentivized, pre-registered experiments (N = 2,325) supported both hypotheses. Our results also identified three moderating factors: the type of interaction the observers expect to have with the actors, congruence of group membership between actors and observers (aligned vs. unaligned), and the magnitude of selective exposure. These results suggest that tailoring one’s information consumption choices has strategic value. Importantly, examining the reputational causes and consequences of selective exposure reveals a novel trade-off: what is typically optimal for decision quality may conflict with accomplishing one’s reputation-management goals. In the era of social media, when information consumption choices are more public than ever before, understanding the ways in which reputational considerations shape decision making illuminates not only why selective exposure remains so pervasive, but also suggests novel mitigation strategies.
Moore, Molly, Charles Dorison, and Julia Minson. "The Role of Social Signaling in Selective Exposure to Information." November 2021.