Cognitive Daily

A fascinating study has just found that hearing one person’s opinion repeated is almost as effective as hearing several different people’s opinions.

Repeated exposure to one person’s viewpoint can have almost as much influence as exposure to shared opinions from multiple people. This finding shows that hearing an opinion multiple times increases the recipient’s sense of familiarity and in some cases gives a listener a false sense that an opinion is more widespread then it actually is.

The researchers had over a thousand student volunteers read statements that were supposed to represent opinions of members of a group. In some cases, they read statements attributed to three different people, but in other cases, the identical statements were attributed to a single person. In both cases, the students believed that the statements represented the opinion of the entire group more frequently compared to when they read one statement attributed to a single individual. Here’s one researcher’s comment on the result:

“This study conveys an important message about how people construct estimates of group opinion based on subjective experiences of familiarity,” states lead author Kimberlee Weaver, (Ph.D), of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. “The repetition effect observed in this research can help us to understand how our own impressions are influenced by what we perceive to be the reality of others. For example, a congressman may get multiple phone calls from a small number of constituents requesting a certain policy be implemented or changed, and from those requests must decide how voters in their state feel about the issue.”

I’d add another example: when legions of fans listen only to Rush Limbaugh on the radio, or watch just Bill Maher for perspective on the news. Even though they realize that they’re just listening to one voice, the incessant repetition of key talking points makes it seem like it’s more representative of the population at large.


  1. #1 Cato
    May 21, 2007

    Carthage must be destroyed.

  2. #2 Dave Munger
    May 21, 2007

    Cato: heh.

    To save the rest of us from having to look this quote up on Wikipedia, here’s the relevant background information:

    The Romans still harboured a bitter hatred for Carthage, which had nearly destroyed their empire in the Second Punic War. Sentiments ran so strong that the powerful statesman Cato usually finished his speeches on any subject in the Senate with the phrase ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam, which means “Furthermore, it is my opinion that Carthage must be destroyed”.

  3. #3 Chris
    May 21, 2007

    You leave out the ending: Rome eventually *did* destroy Carthage, just as Cato wanted.

    When you compare that to how ideological media (of which Fox News is the most visible, but by no means the only one) repeat the same message over and over (and look at *which* messages they’re repeating), well, it looks pretty scary.

    I was about to point out that a lot of people are saying that in their opinion Islam must be destroyed, but then I realized: I don’t know if it really *is* a lot of people, or if it’s a few people repeating it over and over until it *seems* like a lot of people, which is exactly the point.

    Furthermore, it is my opinion that Iraq must *not* be destroyed. Any further than it already has been, that is.

  4. #4 Tony
    May 21, 2007

    The study sounds like a variation of Tversky and Kahneman’s (1973) availability heuristic principle, which suggests that information easily brought to mind is more influential in making judgements and decisions.

    Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1973). Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive Psychology, 5, 207-232.

  5. #5 Joseph Counts
    May 22, 2007

    Ding Ding Ding come get your food. Wasn’t this study done years ago? I guess Pavlov should have used a variety of different bells in another experiement with a different dog to get his point about classical conditioning/instinct manipulation across. And if I spelled Ivan’s name wrong, or he’s not the one that did the saliva experiement, please don’t make an issue out of it….I don’t have time for petty arguments, and it would only be a crude attempt to undermine the underlying statement, which is correct; therefore, making you sound like an uneducated politician in their poor attmept to masquerade their lack of intelligence against a more intelligent opponet… they so often do. As far as the example with Bill Maher I have a question: What slant did you mean/have when you used the word “incessant” as opposed to “repeated exposure” like you did in a prior paragraph? I come to the conclusion that since this is an informative article/posting you would use the words “repeated exposure” twice so a reader could refereance your example with your text easily, but you did not. It seems you used a more “synical”(synonym/cynical) word that may or may not have a slant. Do tell….

  6. #6 Auntie Em
    May 22, 2007

    JC – you’re right in that it was Pavlov. However this study isn’t concerned with conditioned response, in which a stimulus can automatically produce a behaviour, without conscious thought.

    This study is about the cognitive effect of hearing the same point of view espoused by one person vs many people. Surprisingly (to me at least) we are as prepared to believe that an opinion is ubiquitous even when it is espoused by only a vocal minority. This is a very different area of research to the one to which you refer.

    You also query the use of the word incessant. It simply means “without cease”. I can’t presume to talk for the author of the post, but as far as I know, neither Maher nor Limbaugh have ceased to reiterate their key talking points. To say that they do so ad nauseum, now that would be a value judgement…

  7. #7 Tabitha Powledge
    May 22, 2007

    Cognitive Daily is one of my favorite blogs, but I can’t shut up about this: Maybe it’s useful to have this study in the literature, but to me it should be filed under “duh.” Not just politicians, but the advertising industry, are based explicitly on this principle. It may be news to us, but it certainly isn’t to them.

  8. #8 Aviv
    May 23, 2007

    “No amount of genius spent on the creation of propaganda will lead to success if a fundamental principle is not forever kept in mind. Propaganda must confine itself to very few points, and repeat them endlessly. Here, as with so many things in this world, persistence is the first and foremost condition of success.”

    Hitler, Adolf. (1925) “War Propaganda”, in: Mein Kampf, Vol. 1, chapter 6.

  9. #9 pelf
    May 23, 2007

    No wonder our Mums and Supervisors NAG! It’s repetitive in the first place! And it gets screwed into our heads! LOL.

  10. #10 Nagesh
    October 9, 2009

    POpular. This study is about the cognitive effect of hearing the same point of view espoused by one person vs many people.
    Work From Home

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