Ep 170: Is the Web Making You Narrow-Minded?

MichaelSocial Psychology3 Comments


You probably know that sites like Facebook are using the information they have about you – like your age, gender and interests – to serve up ads that are most likely to appeal to you. That’s a little bit harmless and perhaps even helpful. But how about the more subtle filtering that is going on that you may not be aware of?


Search engines are using information they have about you to show you news that these search tools think will most likely appeal to you based on your previous search activities. The problem with that? You might find yourself living in a bubble – sheltered from ever hearing about things you might not agree with, but which might also open your mind a bit and make you what your parents always wanted for you – to be “well-rounded”.


Psychological Theories Discussed in this Episode

    • Social Norms: behaviors that society expects of everyone. Examples: being quiet in the library or bookstore, saying thank you when someone holds the door for you, holding the door for the next person, etc.
    • Social Roles: behaviors expected from you when you’re in a predefined role. Examples: “students” are respectful of teachers and they hold up their hands when they have a question.
    • Group Polarization: the tendency for a group, after a discussion, to hold a more extreme attitude than any individuals might have held prior to a discussion. This may happen because during discussion, members of the group provide several reasons for why the group should have a certain position, and this convinces group members of the “rightness” of their attitudes.

Resources for this Episode

As web companies strive to tailor their services (including news and search results) to our personal tastes, there’s a dangerous unintended consequence: We get trapped in a “filter bubble” and don’t get exposed to information that could challenge or broaden our worldview. Eli Pariser argues powerfully that this will ultimately prove to be bad for us and bad for democracy.



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3 Comments on “Ep 170: Is the Web Making You Narrow-Minded?”

  1. It was either the Daily Show or the Colbert Report they reported that Target can know based on what you buy if you are pregnant or not. They also said that Target can learn much more then that. I think that this is a cool way that Target is applying Psychology.

  2. You make a good point about being careful about stating your interests on web forms or facebook or google, etc. That’s where these sites get the information to create your “bubble”. The burden is definitely on us, as you say, to step out of our bubbles.

  3. As a systems administrator who is currently switching from the IT field to Psychology, I am very well aware of the filter bubble, or as you stated, “…the problem of confirmation bias.” However, I have been actively combating this issue for quite some time. When asked about my likes and dislikes on a website form, I state that I like everything. I also routinely visit links that cover a wide range of topics. In the very near future, when information is highly filtered, the burden will be on the user to purposefully step out of his or her bubble world and actively try new things that may spark an interest and cross pollinate ideas.

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