• Martin Gagnon

Is That What You Wanted to Hear?

Updated: Nov 8, 2019

One of the common beliefs in our society is that the more exposure to diverse populations and ideas that people have, the broader their social networks and belief system will be. However, one of the most fascinating studies showed otherwise. Angela Bahns, an American psychology professor, studied the academic institutions in the state of Kansas (from large to small) and found that “When people are a part of broader communities, they are likely to construct networks that are more narrow.”

Diversity has a paradoxical property. At the much larger University of Kansas, there are a lot of different people to potentially interact with, but it also means that there are many people who are very much like oneself. If one wants to hang out with the like-minded, they are not so very difficult to find. Sociologists call this “fine grained assorting”.

At a smaller college with fewer people, on the other hand, there is less overall diversity. But this means that it is almost impossible to find someone who thinks or looks exactly like oneself. You have to compromise, to accept some minimum level of difference.

The implication for this in the digital world is that the Internet's promise of diversity actually just makes it easier to find like-minded people and results in the rise of echo chambers or groups linked by ideological viewpoints. By getting their news from Facebook and other platforms where friends share cultural and political leanings, people are more exposed to people who agree with them to evidence that supports their views. This can lead to the spread of misinformation since people will seldom leave their social echo chamber. Put simply, people are less exposed to opposing perspectives.

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