Echo chambers may not be as dangerous as you think, new study finds

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In the wake of the 2016 American presidential election, western media outlets became almost obsessed with echo chambers. With headlines like "Echo Chambers are Dangerous" and "Are You in a Social Media Echo Chamber?" news media consumers have been inundated by articles discussing the problems with spending most of one's time around likeminded people.

But are social bubbles really all that bad? Perhaps not.

A new study from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that collective intelligence—peer learning within social networks—can increase belief accuracy even in politically homogenous groups.

"Previous research showed that social information processing could work in mixed groups," says lead author and Annenberg alum Joshua Becker (Ph.D. '18), who is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. "But theories of political polarization argued that social influence within homogenous groups should only amplify existing biases."

It's easy to imagine that networked would work when you're asking people neutral questions, such as how many jelly beans are in a jar. But what about probing hot-button political topics? Because people are more likely to adjust the facts of the world to match their beliefs than vice versa, prior theories claimed that a group of people who agree politically would be unable to use collective reasoning to arrive at a factual answer if it challenged their beliefs.

"Earlier this year, we showed that when Democrats and Republicans interact with each other within properly designed social networks, it can eliminate polarization and improve both groups' understanding of contentious issues such as ," says senior author Damon Centola, Associate Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School. "Remarkably, our new findings show that properly designed social media networks can even lead to improved understanding of contentious topics within echo chambers."

Becker and colleagues devised an experiment in which participants answered fact-based questions that stir up political leanings, like "How much did unemployment change during Barack Obama's presidential administration?" or "How much has the number of undocumented immigrants changed in the last 10 years?" Participants were placed in groups of only Republicans or only Democrats and given the opportunity to change their responses based on the other ' answers.

The results show that individual beliefs in homogenous groups became 35% more accurate after participants exchanged information with one another. And although people's beliefs became more similar to their own party members, they also became more similar to members of the other political party, even without any between-group exchange. This means that even in homogenous groups—or echo chambers— increases factual accuracy and decreases polarization.

"Our results cast doubt on some of the gravest concerns about the role of echo chambers in contemporary democracy," says co-author Ethan Porter, Assistant Professor of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. "When it comes to factual matters, political echo chambers need not necessarily reduce accuracy or increase polarization. Indeed, we find them doing the opposite."

It is important to note, Becker points out, that participants in this study were motivated to be accurate, which is an important factor in social information processing. More research is needed to understand what would happen to belief accuracy when a group is motivated to stir up controversy rather than reach an accurate consensus.

"Many political theorists and practitioners have advocated for the value of deliberative democracy, which has as its cornerstone the ability to learn from one another," says Annenberg Professor Michael X. Delli Carpini, who was a member of Becker's dissertation committee. "But there's been a longstanding question of whether deliberation actually works as intended. This study is a good step toward answering that question."

The study, "The Wisdom of Partisan Crowds," is available from PNAS.


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More information: Joshua Becker el al., "The wisdom of partisan crowds," PNAS (2019). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1817195116
Citation: Echo chambers may not be as dangerous as you think, new study finds (2019, May 13) retrieved 21 July 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-05-echo-chambers-dangerous.html
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May 13, 2019
I don't normally comment on social-science topics on this site, but the study failed to match what the term 'echo-chamber' has come to refer to: a collection of uniformly aligned individuals who only respond positively to the sound of their own voices, and/or more ominously, the bell-wether injections by state-actor shiIIs who systematically amplify the desired end-product groupthink, and destroy the credibility, by a battery of tested and reliable verbal algorithms, of any contrary voice no matter how well-supported by argument, data, and credible links.

May 13, 2019
MSM is an echo chamber , and if you write propaganda like the above u r in the same one .

May 13, 2019
Science conferences, political conferences and all conferences with a topic are the echo chambers of the past.

Journals with a single topic, classes on a single subject are all effectively echo chambers.

The difference now is that groups, opinions and politics which are disliked by the majority of the public have now formed into organised groups and this is the worry, and they have used new media to achieve these goals.

In the past the village idiot was an outcast. Then along came social media and the village idiot discovers that every village has an idiot and so they no longer feel like an outcast but empowered to assert what they consider to be their rightful place in society...now we have a global village.

May 13, 2019
Political agitators know this. In order to achieve their ends, they sow chaos because it's gotta be better for them than sanity. If there were sanity they'd never get into power. Everyone would look at their goals to subjugate everyone else and go, "Nawwww, I don't think so. I think you're power-hungry assholes who don't care about anyone else."

May 13, 2019
Don't tell Rush Limbaugh......

May 13, 2019
However, the whole mess is the inevitable result of human evolution. When we look into and try to anticipate or plan for the future, the process we use requires a capacity for self delusion. The construction of the possible future in our minds is a delusionary process. The gaining cooperation requires the investment of others in a delusion. Those who can successfully sell delusion are called "leaders". Humans traffic in delusion constantly. We value a greater capacity for self delusion as "intelligence". Meantime, we invent what we call "the scientific method" as a feeble attempt to avoid delusion. We are never quite successful. Perhaps if we beget a progeny of AI's, they can find a way to be "intelligent" without delusion. If so, perhaps our progeny will survive.

May 14, 2019
And delusions, once invested in, require constant reinforcement. A human can sustain investment in any delusion, no matter how insane it might be, with proper reinforcement. The sustenance of delusion is very important to us - evolution has given us this as the tool we use for survival. Echo chambers are sought out, especially by those who have invested in delusions that truly cannot stand the light of day.

May 14, 2019
Meh, this has been tried since the Greeks. It never works, but it always fucks things up for a little while. Eventually lies are found out. Cheaters never prosper.

May 14, 2019
Hmmm. Democrats working off the old theory of sales that if you repeat something at least 4 times, people begin to believe it, if it's true or not. Climate change (formerly, "global warming") is hammered away at in the liberal media ad nauseum.

May 14, 2019
ANGEL NUMBER 938. Number 938 is a compilation of the vibrations and influences of number 9 and number 3, and the attributes of number 8. ... Number 9 also denotes endings and conclusions

May 14, 2019
Hmmm. Democrats working off the old theory of sales that if you repeat something at least 4 times, people begin to believe it, if it's true or not. Climate change (formerly, "global warming") is hammered away at in the liberal media ad nauseum.
Climate change has become thoroughly established in the formal scientific literature, and the percentage of news stories--judging by frequency (in Google News, for example)--has commensurately dropped precipitously over the past couple of years. The only high-frequency noise about it is found in a small sector of media players: Breitbart, The Daily Caller, Watts Up With That, inter al. Even Fox has pretty well thrown in the towel; a retreat-contingent remains in their comment-sections, along with the usual echo-hollering about "Hillary!!" "Pallets of Money!" "Benghazi!!" "Crisis Actors!!", etc.

May 15, 2019
I don't normally comment on social-science topics on this site, but the study failed to match what the term 'echo-chamber' has come to refer to: a collection of uniformly aligned individuals who only respond positively to the sound of their own voices, and/or more ominously, the bell-wether injections by state-actor shiIIs


They selected one minimal variant (of bipartisan media groups) - it is a start and clarifies the minimal traits and mechanisms - and the article goes on to note that it does not apply when people are mot motivated by accuracy (understanding and fairness). We will have to wait and see how ever smaller groups behave.

Climate change has become thoroughly established in the formal scientific literature
.

In its original and non-political terminology of anthropic global warming. It is primarily the rate that is concerning, and it obviously will go up in global average when our forcing of greenhouse gas emissions does, but the facts at the ground stuck.

May 15, 2019
The problem isn't echo chambers, but how they are constituted.

Social media bubbles are, in the end, social organizations. In human social organization, a hierarchy emerges where few individuals dominate the discourse and their sycophants echo out the message. Not everyone can have a voice because the group would break down in noise, so most people just listen while the few prominent individuals discuss their opinions.

Things like Twitter are basically built for this: it's a megaphone, not a platform for discussion.

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