Information behaviour using the example of the COVID-19 pandemic: new paper by Ester Faia
These days, news articles about current events seem to be available everywhere and at any time. However, which content do we choose? Do we tend to read and like articles that confirm our prior beliefs and convictions? And how are these beliefs and convictions affected by what we read? A new paper by Ester Faia and co-authors, which will be published in the journal Review of Economics and Statistics, addresses these and other questions. In the context of the paper, the authors conducted two survey-based experiments that dealt with participants’ behaviour regarding news articles related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to the experiment, end of May 2020, the participants were first asked to provide an estimate of how the pandemic would develop in the future. Then, in the first experiment, the participants were asked to choose between article headlines with an optimistic and a pessimistic tone. Following this, they were presented a randomly selected article and were asked to read and then rate it. The result was that people with a more pessimistic attitude, i.e. who expected a more negative development of the pandemic, preferred more pessimistically worded headlines, were more likely to update their beliefs based on the corresponding information, and also rated articles with an optimistic orientation as less helpful and informative. The same was true for the opposite case, for people with a more optimistic attitude: they were more likely to choose headlines that corresponded to their point of view and to judge texts with an optimistic tone more positively.
The second experiment focused on the role of the respective news source on the choice of article. The source had not yet been revealed in the first experiment and was either a liberal or a conservative media outlet. The aim of the experiment was to assess whether the political orientation of the participants affected which articles they chose to read. The results showed an aversion to read articles from a news source on the other side of the political spectrum, even if the participant had rated the corresponding headline positively.
The results provide evidence of “confirmation bias”, which generally states that people prefer to select and consume information that confirms their existing attitude. In this case, the political orientation of the participants had an even stronger impact than prior beliefs related to the future development of the pandemic and its economic and health outcomes.
You can find the paper here.
The full citation is: Ester Faia, Andreas Fuster, Vincenzo Pezone, Basit Zafar; Biases in Information Selection and Processing: Survey Evidence from the Pandemic. The Review of Economics and Statistics 2022; doi: https://doi.org/10.1162/rest_a_01187.