Selective Exposure Theory & Public Speaking

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  • 0:01 Selective Exposure Theory
  • 0:42 Selective Exposure…
  • 3:05 Beliefs & Values
  • 4:46 Attitudes & Opinions
  • 6:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Cathryn Jackson

Cat has taught a variety of subjects, including communications, mathematics, and technology. Cat has a master's degree in education and is currently working on her Ph.D.

Selective exposure theory has a great impact on you as a speaker and as a listener. This lesson will help you understand selective exposure theory and how to deal with it in public speaking.

Selective Exposure Theory

James is listening to a speech on technology. James notices that the speaker makes some attacks against other technologists and uses some colorful language during the speech. Afterward, James discusses the speech with his friend, Mia. Mia is excited. 'That speech was about 3D printing, my favorite topic! I thought it was a great speech.' James is confused; he thought the speech was interesting but inappropriate. How could Mia get a vastly different perspective of the speech?

In this lesson, you will learn about the concept of selective exposure theory, how it relates to persuasive speaking, and how to counter this phenomenon when giving a speech.

Selective Exposure Theory & Persuasion

Mia and James both experienced a phenomenon called selective exposure theory, where a listener will prefer and focus on the information that confirms the individual's perceptions on a certain topic. This means that a listener will generally only hear the information that confirms his or her position on a certain topic. For example, if the listener believes that the speaker is not credible or incompetent, then that listener will be keener in hearing the flaws in logic or grammatical errors that the speaker makes during a speech.

As a speaker and a responsible audience member, it is important to be aware of selective exposure theory. A good listener can be aware of selective exposure theory and try to listen more openly to the speaker. As a speaker, you can prepare your speech in a way that helps overcome selective exposure theory by being an honest, credible, and dynamic speaker.

Let's talk about how listeners use selective exposure theory when exposed to new or controversial information. Selective exposure theory has a relationship with the concept of cognitive dissonance, which is the state of being psychologically uncomfortable. This generally happens when a person is presented with information that causes them to have an internal debate.

You may feel cognitive dissonance when trying to make a difficult decision or trying to understand the right thing to do in a situation. You may also feel cognitive dissonance when internalizing complex and controversial issues, such as abortion, gun control, stem cell research, gay rights, privacy versus security, drone policies, and the like. When this happens, a person will do everything they can to alleviate the cognitive dissonances. This is when selective exposure theory kicks in.

When Mia was listening to the speech on technology, she was presented with information that probably caused her to use selective exposure theory rather than listening openly to the entire speech. Listeners will unconsciously use selective exposure theory to prevent cognitive dissonance. Mentally, a listener would rather disagree or agree with an entire speech rather than agree with some parts and disagree with others. A listener will also use selective exposure theory to prevent from being persuaded to change a position.

Let's talk about the elements of selective exposure theory and a listener's position.

Beliefs & Values

In order to understand how selective exposure theory works, you must also understand the elements that create a listener's position. These include beliefs, values, attitudes, and opinions.

First, a belief is a position that is founded on our empirical perceptions of the world. This means that what we hear, see, touch, taste, feel, and have any other interaction with is what helps us build our beliefs. For example, if we have a personal experience with what we believe is a miracle, then we will believe that miracles happen. If someone gives a speech on disproving miracles, then our beliefs will use selective exposure theory to eliminate any doubt of miracles in our minds.

Our beliefs shape our values. A value is the thing on which a person places the most emphasis, or importance. The things that we believe and hold to be true will determine what we value in our lives. For example, if you believe that family and personal relationships are what brings happiness, then this is what you will value the most in your life.

Your values are what determine how you interact with the world around you. If you value interpersonal relationships, then you will interact with people around you with great care and consideration. If you believe that success is based on what you achieve and your accomplishments, then you will value the things that allow you to gain the greatest accomplishments and achieve the most. You have many beliefs and values; these all guide how you interact with the world. Selective exposure theory is influenced by your values and beliefs; selective exposure theory is a tool that your subconscious uses to only expose you to the evidence that upholds your values - the things that you uphold the most.

Attitudes & Opinions

Since your values are the things that you uphold the most, they will shape your attitudes and opinions. An attitude is the approach a person takes when dealing with situations. Your values determine your attitudes. If you are dealing with a conflict or a decision you have to make, then the attitude you take will be based on what you value.

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