Are we preaching to the converted?

My day in a nutshell:

 1) Get up, log into my Google Reader, read blogs that I subscribe to

 2) Check twitter, read tweets (many by the same people who’s blogs I just read)

 3) Open up the assignment that I am determined to finish before I go to class (because I won’t be beaten by procrastination – not this time anyway).

3) Click on links that take me directly to articles on websites that I would normally frequent anyway

 4) Open up my facebook account, read feeds from anyone that has ever been associated with anything that I have ever ‘liked’

5) Make some lunch (yes it it lunchtime already – I got distracted by talking to my friends in the USA because it is night there)

6) Still a few hours to do my assignment.… A podcast that I subscribe to just came through on my phone.

7) The host suggested an interesting website at the end of the show – I’ll just check that out.

8) DAMNIT I am late for Uni!


As I run out the door I am faced with a fork in the cognitive road. I can either:




The first option causes “cognitive dissonance” – the evidence is challenging my perceptions of myself as a determined and motivated person.

The second option maintains “cognitive consonance” – it maintains my determined and motivated self-perception at the expense of, well…the reality.


I am going to go with the consonance because I don’t like having my beliefs challenged.


As it turns out noone else does either. In a study of people’s preferences to reading political literature 36% more time was spent reading reports that agreed with the reader’s political leanings (Knobloch-Westerwick and Jingbo Meng, 2009). People tended to avoid articles that challenged their political ideology.

But at least it is not 100%, you might say, at least they are being exposed somewhat to other views. In a lab maybe. The reality these days is different. Self-selecting material and denying evidence was not my only problems today. If I happened to accidentally find myself ‘surfing’ the web (unlikely) all the content that is displayed is selected for me by google based on my past internet use. Gone are the days when I could outsmart Google with a proxy server or IP mask, now they get everything they need from my Gmail + and YouTube accounts, no matter where I am in the World!


So, if everyone is self-selecting their information exposure and discarding anything that doesn’t align with what they want to believe, can we ever change people’s perceptions or attitudes?


Or are we all just preaching to the converted?


Knobloch-Westerwick, S., & Meng, J. (2009). Looking the other way: Selective exposure to attitude-consistent and counterattitudinal political information. Communication Research, 36(3), 426-448.

By Dangerous

5 comments on “Are we preaching to the converted?

  1. WOW! I thought I was reading my own diary reflection. Great post, Razdyer.

    People’s perceptions or attitudes, in my opinion may be totally controlled by their own choices, influenced by their own environment.
    It is a challenge for one to change another person’s perceptions and attitudes as they build up over time as well. So I think, as communicators, perhaps we need to change our’s first before we can convert them. Other people may have converted to other beliefs or perceptions, so to bring them into our world we have to be converted first.

  2. Great! I saw this post from my google reader subscription. Seems like my life is totally manipulated by my preference.
    I agree with you so much. We are exposed to “mass” media, while only pick some we think are interesting and pleasing. We could have ten feeds in the google reader talking about how to make our life more productive, while never get our work started.
    So it’s getting increasingly important to make our audience interested in something we want to communicate, then, with the help of today’s technology, they would keep themselves exposed to these information. That’s what we could not achieve in the past. It’s not easy to challenge their opinions, but as long as they get interested in something, it easy to strengthen their opinions.

  3. That’s quite a deep question you left us with Rhian. I like to think that you can change people’s attitudes and perceptions. Look at how attitudes to smoking have changed over the last few decades. Granted it took a while but the reasons why are a whole other can of worms.

    Our brains don’t like to feel ‘stressed’ so it’s always making up excuses to justify why it’s not as bad as we think. It is the same with social norms of behaviour, we spend time with like-minded individuals and feel like part of a group we identify with. We won’t ALWAYS have the same opinion or experiences as our peers. We are ‘slightly’ different people when we’re at work, at uni, with that wild group of friends and with a more conservative crowd. These people are always introducing new perspectives to us and as long as you trust (respect, admire maybe?) the person with an alternate opinion to yours, you will think about it more, perhaps read more about it if you need to and then adapt your opinion.

    I realise this may be idealistic and perhaps in my circle of uni friends “seeking wisdom” at UWA, this may be so but I think once attitudes become more of a social norm, they become adopted by the wider public in general.

    • Sure attitudes on smoking have changed dramatically but the government campaigns have relied on mass media. The mass media is loosing power these days and I just can’t see how they could get the message through to people like me who don’t even know how to turn their flatmates TV on. Sure word of mouth can be pretty powerful but it is also slow and unreliable and undoubtedly the message will be distorted as people adjust it to suit their own world views.

  4. Great post, I thought that what you said was really interesting! It got me thinking really hard. Coming from a Psychology background, I like to have the idea that I am able to change or alter people’s perceptions and attitudes. We study a lot about the way people behave and think in psychology. Some psychology experiments are manipulated in a certain way to support or not support the proposed hypothesis. That being said, I agree with noelynn that people’s perceptions or attitudes may be totally controlled by their own choices and influenced by their own environment. Maybe that is why individuals who study psychology have job prospects in human resources and marketing agencies to study on consumer behaviour and promote strategies. This gives me a sigh of relief that I won’t be unemployed.. 🙂

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