Saturday, May 1, 2010

Reinforcement Theory

Generally peoples are likely to seek out and remember things that provide support for their already established attitude and belief. The mathematics for this is there aren't a single person who like to be at the wrong side. Most individuals usually had pre-existing belief when it come to certain issues (eg. Religions, politics, ideologies, celebrities they admired etc) and often feel uncomfortable and threatened when their belief are challenged. The Reinforcement Theory is an assumption that people with pre-existing opinion will selectively incorporate with information that support their own views. This results to three primary phenomenon - Selective exposure, selective perception and selective retention.

Selective Exposure - When individuals encounter information that is discrepant from their own opinions, they seek to resolve the resultant disharmony somehow. People in general do not like to be wrong. A change or shift in attitude is sometimes interpreted as an admission that the original belief was inaccurate or inadequate. To avoid having their opinions challenged, people tend to simply avoid information that might be discrepant in nature. Obviously, most are not able to completely avoid all potentially challenging information. In these cases, message receivers may outright reject dissonant messages. The reasons for rejection are varied and plentiful. For example, the person might justify message rejection by attacking the source’s credibility (Sound fit with most Malaysians information-digesting behaviour)

Selective Perception - No matter how much effort that we put in ignorance, there are no way we could completely dodge all the information from reaching us - especially not in this internet era. Booming number of blogs, social nets, forums, facebook and twitter users, the only way to secure your belief from dissonant exposure is by living in cave (which is also impossible to normal 21st century human beings). Now when the exposure has occurred, selective perception often follows in the facts digesting process. Selective perception simply mean that people tend to skew their perception to coincide with what they desire.

There are three potential actions a person may take to reduce dissonance in this situation. First, the person may learn about the new opinion on the issue and then change his opinion or alter his own position on the issue in question to bring them in line. Second, he may still choose to disagree with the new opinion but instead will lessen the issue’s personal importance. Last, the person may engage in selective perception and actually misperceive the new opinion to align better with his/her own stand than it actually does. Commonly the third option to occur with the greatest frequency.

Selective Retention - The final mechanism behind reinforcement theory has to do with selective retention and recall. This phenomenon occurs when people remember only those items that are in agreement with their predispositions. The ease with which a person can recall information impacts the level and intensity of judgment related to the topic. For example, people who can easily recall an example related to the message are more likely to make an intense judgment about it.

Conclusion: Make your own conclusion

Reinforcement Theory from Rahimah IPB management class, 2009

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