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The world on our mind

Bubbled thinking

Bubbled thinking Back in the olden days (i.e., the 1990s), most of us got our news from the same three places -- ABC, CBS, and NBC.  

There was carping in some quarters that the networks news was slanted to one side or the other, depending on who's ox was being gored.  But basically we all got the same menu of news.

Today, the media landscape is much more fragmented and people have a lot more control over their sources of news.  In fact, the proportion of Americans who say they get most of their news from the three major networks has fallen by half.  

And thanks to the Internet, we can choose to get most of our news from sources we agree with and filter out those we oppose.  So more than half of Fox News' audience is Republican; more than two-thirds of MSNBC's much smaller audience is Democat.

One byproduct of this phenomenon is that we all tend to live in an information bubble. Julian Sanchez dubbed the phenomenon "epistemic closure" and it refers to a tendency to discard any data that contradicts our pre-existing beliefs and accept as gospel any data that confirm them.

Research over the last year has documented the effects of living in that bubble on two issues -- inequality and global warming.  The first, of course, has been well documented and is non-controvertible.  By any measure, income inequality in the U.S. has increased since the late 1970s.  The second is admittedly more controversial.  

But what is interesting is how people's ideological leanings interact with the amount of information they consume.  To wit, better informed conservatives are less likely to agree that income inequality has increased and that global warming is a threat.  Well informed liberals are more inclined to agree with both statements.

It seems that once you're in a bubble, it's hard to think outside it.


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