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.