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date: 22 August 2017

Selective Avoidance and Exposure

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.

Since the mid-20th century, communication researchers have recognized that audience members selectively expose themselves to information and opinions congenial to their preexisting views. While this was a controversial idea during the broadcast era of mass media, the expansion of media choice on television and the use of information communication technology have brought increased attention to selectivity among audience members. Contemporary scholarship investigates the extent to which people select pro-attitudinal information or avoid counter-attitudinal information and the role these choices play in the effects of media messages on viewers.

While selective exposure is a broader phenomenon, this essay substantively focuses on the use of politically partisan media, especially the research methods used to investigate media selectivity and its effects. This literature manifests an increased attention to measurement, especially how we measure the core concept of media exposure, novel experimental designs intended to allow investigators to directly view individual choice behavior in complex media environments, and attention to new sources of large-scale data from social media and large text samples.

Scholars agree that partisan websites and cable networks provide content politically distinct enough to allow viewers to segregate themselves into liberal and conservative audiences for news, but that this kind of polarized viewing is only part of how viewers use media today. We see a nuanced picture of selectivity, with audiences selecting congenial content, but employing broader media use repertoires as well. The mechanisms and effects of media selectivity are psychologically complex and are sensitive to contextual factors such as the political issue under consideration.