In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Selective Exposure

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Preliminary Works
  • Related Concepts

Communication Selective Exposure
Hans-Bernd Brosius, Christina Peter
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 February 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 February 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0023


The basic assumption in the study of selective exposure is that people expose themselves to external stimuli in a selective way. When referred to the area of mass communication, this means that people choose certain types of media content and avoid other types. Although this fact may sound rather trivial, it is important in understanding the effects of mass communication because it is our common understanding that people can only be influenced by media messages to which they actually expose themselves. Therefore, the selective exposure concept emphasizes the active role of the individual in the selection of media content. Research into this phenomenon is undertaken in the fields of both psychology and communication studies. Basically, there are two major trends in this research. Most studies focus on factors that lead to selective exposure or that mediate this process, whereas other studies deal with the consequences of selective exposure to information processing. The selection processes have also been examined in different contexts, such as in political or online communication.

General Overviews

Only a few textbooks and anthologies have focused exclusively on selective exposure, and most overviews have been published in academic journals. Many works like Frey and Wicklund 1978, Frey 1986, and D’Alessio and Allen 2007 define “selective exposure” as the result of cognitive dissonance, which leads people to seek information consonant with their beliefs and to avoid challenging information. However, in Freedman and Sears 1965, the authors concluded that there is little empirical support for these assumptions. This controversy in the early research on the subject has led to a multitude of studies exploring the effects of selective exposure. In contrast, Katz 1968 gives an overview of studies on voting behavior. Bryant and Davis 2006 as well as the contributors to Zillmann and Bryant 1985 look at selective exposure from a different perspective and focus on entertainment choices. The contributors to Hartmann 2009, on the other hand, give a more general insight in the research of media choice.

  • Bryant, Jennings, and John Davies. 2006. Selective exposure processes. In Psychology of entertainment. Edited by Jennings Bryant and Peter Vorderer, 19–33. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

    This undergraduate text focuses on the role of emotions in the selective exposure process and provides a useful overview of the subject in the context of entertainment choices. As in Zillmann and Bryant 1985, selective exposure is conceptualized in a similar way to mood management theory, with the premise that people choose information according to their emotional state.

  • D’Alessio, Dave, and Mike Allen. 2007. The selective exposure hypothesis and media choice processes. In Mass media effects research: Advances through meta-analysis. Edited by Raymond W. Preiss, 103–119. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

    This text provides three different meta-analytic reviews of studies dealing with selective exposure processes based on dissonance theory. It is extremely successful in imparting an overview of the empirical research on the subject. The authors replicate the analysis of Freedman and Sears 1965 and reach different conclusions.

  • Frey, Dieter, and Robert A. Wicklund. 1978. A clarification of selective exposure: The impact of choice. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 14:132–139.

    DOI: 10.1016/0022-1031(78)90066-5

    This study identifies inconsistent findings concerning the selective exposure paradigm, which according to the authors, are attributable to inadequate methodological design and confounding factors. In this study, the variable of choice was manipulated, showing that selective exposure to supporting information increases when subjects perform a task voluntarily.

  • Frey, Dieter. 1986. Recent research on selective exposure to information. In Advances in experimental social psychology. Vol. 19. Edited by Leonard Berkowitz, 41–80. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

    This text gives a broad overview of the early research into selective exposure. It is useful for both undergraduates and graduates who wish to understand the origins of the concept and several of the variables that influence the selective exposure processes.

  • Freedman, Jonathan L., and David O. Sears. 1965. Selective exposure. In Advances in experimental social psychology. Vol. 2. Edited by Leonard Berkowitz, 58–98. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

    This text for advanced undergraduates and graduates provides a critical review of the research on selective exposure. It is one of the most cited and controversial articles discussed in the literature on selective exposure. After reviewing 23 studies on the subject, the authors conclude that the findings are inconsistent and, overall, there is little support for the selective exposure hypothesis.

  • Hartmann, Tilo, ed. 2009. Media choice: A theoretical and empirical overview. New York and London: Routledge.

    Dealing with the different aspects of media choice, this anthology presents a modern view of selective exposure and examines the concept in a larger framework of media usage. The issues addressed in this volume concern the mechanisms that lead to the selection of media options and their consequences. It should be useful for both undergraduate and graduate students.

  • Katz, Elihu. 1968. On reopening the question of selectivity in exposure to mass communication. In Theories of cognitive consistency: A sourcebook. Edited by Robert P. Abelson, et al., 788–796. Chicago: Rand McNally.

    This text is a review of the early research into selective exposure, focusing on exposure to mass communication. Katz lists studies outside cognitive dissonance theory, such as those on voting behavior. In contrast to other authors in the anthology, he finds considerable support for selective exposure theory.

  • Zillmann, Dolf, and Jennings Bryant, eds. 1985. Selective exposure to communication. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    This anthology, directed toward both undergraduate and graduate students, focuses on selective exposure processes in the realm of entertainment. The contributions to this volume are from both psychology and communication departments and deal mainly with exposure to television programs.

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