Interventions for Softening Can Lead to Hardening of Opinions : Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial

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2021
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Abu-Akel, Ahmad
West, Robert
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LESKOVEC, Jure, ed., Marko GROBELNIK, ed., Marc NAJORK, ed., Jie TANG, ed., Leila ZIA, ed.. WWW '21 : Proceedings of the Web Conference 2021. New York, NY: ACM, 2021, pp. 1098-1109. ISBN 978-1-4503-8312-7. Available under: doi: 10.1145/3442381.3450019
Zusammenfassung

Motivated by the goal of designing interventions for softening polarized opinions on the Web, and building on results from psychology, we hypothesized that people would be moved more easily towards opposing opinions when the latter were voiced by a celebrity they like, rather than by a celebrity they dislike. We tested this hypothesis in a survey-based randomized controlled trial in which we exposed respondents to opinions that were randomly assigned to one of four spokespersons each: a disagreeing but liked celebrity, a disagreeing and disliked celebrity, a disagreeing expert, and an agreeing but disliked celebrity. After the treatment, we measured changes in the respondents’ opinions, empathy towards the spokespersons, and use of affective language.
Unlike hypothesized, no softening of opinions was observed regardless of the respondents’ attitudes towards the celebrity. Instead, we found strong evidence of a hardening of pretreatment opinions when a disagreeing opinion was attributed to an expert or when an agreeing opinion was attributed to a disliked celebrity. We also observed a pronounced reduction in empathy for disagreeing spokespersons, indicating a punitive response. The only celebrity for whom, on average, empathy remained unchanged was the one who agreed, even though they were disliked.
Our results could be explained as a reaction to violated expectations towards experts and as a perceived breach of trust by liked celebrities. They confirm that naïve strategies at mediation may not yield intended results, and how difficult it is to depolarize—and how easy it is to further polarize or provoke emotional responses.

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International World Wide Web Conference WWW 2021, 19. Apr. 2021 - 23. Apr. 2021, Ljubljana, Slovenia
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ISO 690SPITZ, Andreas, Ahmad ABU-AKEL, Robert WEST, 2021. Interventions for Softening Can Lead to Hardening of Opinions : Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial. International World Wide Web Conference WWW 2021. Ljubljana, Slovenia, 19. Apr. 2021 - 23. Apr. 2021. In: LESKOVEC, Jure, ed., Marko GROBELNIK, ed., Marc NAJORK, ed., Jie TANG, ed., Leila ZIA, ed.. WWW '21 : Proceedings of the Web Conference 2021. New York, NY: ACM, 2021, pp. 1098-1109. ISBN 978-1-4503-8312-7. Available under: doi: 10.1145/3442381.3450019
BibTex
@inproceedings{Spitz2021Inter-55679,
  year={2021},
  doi={10.1145/3442381.3450019},
  title={Interventions for Softening Can Lead to Hardening of Opinions : Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial},
  isbn={978-1-4503-8312-7},
  publisher={ACM},
  address={New York, NY},
  booktitle={WWW '21 : Proceedings of the Web Conference 2021},
  pages={1098--1109},
  editor={Leskovec, Jure and Grobelnik, Marko and Najork, Marc and Tang, Jie and Zia, Leila},
  author={Spitz, Andreas and Abu-Akel, Ahmad and West, Robert}
}
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