Free Minds & Free Markets

Study: You Literally Can’t Even Pay People to Read Opinions They Disagree With

Like children, voters place their hands over their own ears and yell "not listening!"

CryKyle Flood / Wikimedia CommonsPeople are so conditioned to avoid contrary viewpoints that they will actually forego an opportunity to win more money if it requires them to read something with which they disagree.

That's according to a fascinating—and deeply depressing—study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

The study gave participants two options: they could read an article about same-sex marriage that matched their own perspective, or they could read an article about same-sex marriage that contradicted their views on the subject. They were told that if they selected the article with which they disagreed, they would be entered in a drawing to win $10. But if they selected the more comforting, self-affirming article, they would only stand to win $7.

"You'd think everyone would want to win more money, right?" wrote Vox's Brian Resnick in his write-up of the study. Resnick is right—I did think that.

As it turns out, a solid majority of participants—a whopping 63 percent—would rather read the article they already agreed with, even if it meant winning less money.

One of the study's authors, Matt Motyl, described this phenomenon as "motivated ignorance" in an interview with Vox. Participants were misinformed about the other side's arguments, and determined to remain that way. The emotional comfort they would lose by being exposed to contrary information was worth more to them than $4.

This has consequences for a democratic society, since it suggests that people do not tend to remain open to the best arguments for and against a certain policy. They willfully close their minds, because receiving contrary information is psychologically painful.

Of course, libertarian thinkers like Bryan Caplan and Ilya Somin have long argued that voters are rationally irrational: they make uninformed political decisions because the cost of becoming educated is too high relative to the ability to produce change—a well-informed voter still only gets one vote. The fact that people are perfectly willing to forego money in order to avoid the mental anguish that comes with processing new information fits well within a framework of rational irrationality.

If there's a policy consequence here, perhaps it's this: the bipartisan, decades' old effort to make the American government bigger and more powerful is placing a great deal of unwarranted trust in the collective wisdom of voters who, like children, prefer to place their hands over their ears and yell not listening!

Photo Credit: Kyle Flood

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  • Chipper Mourning Somali Roadz||

    The only thing this study shows is that researchers are cheap. $3? I wouldn't even read a Ken comment for that much.

  • Libertarian||

    A $3 bill for reading about gay marriage? Sounds like they were trolling to me.

  • Quixote||

    Hopefully nobody would be willing to accept money to read the inappropriate "First Amendment dissent" of a single, isolated judge in America's leading criminal "satire" case. See the documentation at:

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Ken comments are to be skimmed, not read.

  • Ken Shultz||

    We both know you stay up late at night hoping I'll write more.

  • buybuydandavis||

    I do!

    Wish they had 10 of you on staff.

    But, what dumd "science"!

    I'm supposed to be motivated by a "chance" to win $3 more? How little do they think people consider their time is work?

  • buybuydandavis||

    Voice recognition blows

  • RussianPrimeMinister||

    So does to momma, but not for $3.

  • MarkLastname||

    Presumably both articles take the same amount of time to read.

  • ||

    Not even $3. A *chance* to win $3 (more) in a lottery. We don't know how big a chance, but "lottery" implies pretty small, right?

    I guess the experimental design was successful in that the researchers succeeded in getting published. But I don't think they proved a damn thing.

  • RussianPrimeMinister||

    And since you don't agree with their opinion, they'll refuse to read your comment. Unless you're willing to pay them $3.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    A chance to win $10. The fact that payment was not guaranteed would factor in.

  • MarkLastname||

    I probably would assume the lottery was a scam and just spent the time drawing penises on the article.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Seriously, assuming $10.25/hr for your time, one of Ken's walls o' text ought to net the average reader at least eight bucks.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    For those of us that are slow readers, it could be as much as $48.50

  • Libertarian||

    I'll be able to afford that Saab in no time!

  • Arcxjo||

    Keep reading, then, you'll need a mechanic on retainer.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Wait...I can be paid to read Shikha's opinions??

  • buybuydandavis||

    Does pointing and laughing count?

  • chipper me timbers||

    10-7 != 4

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I disagree with this opinion.

  • KDN||

    It's called rounding.

  • buybuydandavis||

    Close enough for government work

  • MarkLastname||

    He adjusted for inflation. Or converted from metric, or something.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    There are choices I could have made for my career that would be paying well over six figures, but the lifestyle would gargle balls.

    I'm not that surprised people would forego $3 to not read something from Jezebel.

  • brady949||

    It's not even a guaranteed $3! It's the chance to win $3 extra.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Yep, hence my reply above. Fabulous prizes of UP to $3 MIGHT be won if you spend your afternoon doing some shit you hate.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    It seems to me that the study is predicated on assuming all points of view have equal value or merit.

    Here are two things, they have equal weight and value. If you choose the one you already like, you might win $7, if you choose the one you tend not to like, you might win $10.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    People are so conditioned to avoid contrary viewpoints that they will actually forego an opportunity to win more money if it requires them to read something with which they disagree.

    Nuh uh!

  • pan fried wylie||

    "So I still get $7, and I'm not annoyed by the article?"

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    That's the thing. It was "a chance to win $7".

    Fuck that. I'd rather enjoy myself and probably not win $7 than listen to nails dragging on a chalkboard to probably not win $10.

  • pan fried wylie||

    Yeah, my brain skipped over the chance part. Allow me to correct the dramatization:

    "Sir, are you interested in a chance to win....Sir? Come back, SIR?!"

  • Johnimo||

    You've nailed it exactly. This writer just doesn't get it …. apparently EVER.

  • NoVaNick||

    I am always willing to read news articles whose conclusions I disagree with but I may genuinely think they are BS. This has less to do with the merits of the argument than the pompous tone of the journalist and "experts" they interview to support their conclusion.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    So much depends on where the articles come from. Reading anything from Salon or HuffPo, unless it's cute kitten pics, if a waste of time -- it will be fact free and chock full of feelz. Same for WND in a different mode -- they are the Weekly Weird News of the fundamentalist chicken hawk faction. At least Weekly Weird News had a few laughs -- I remember two headlines, "WW II bomber found on moon" and "WW II torpedo bomber found with skeleton at controls" -- within weeks of each other.

    If a site has a reputation for facts, no matter what the slant, I will give it a chance. Feelz, no, regardless of slant, unless I am just in the mood for a good rant.

  • MarkLastname||

    I read Thomas Piketty's book just to expose myself to the other side; it was thoroughly unconvincing, and what's more, I couldn't even discuss the book with leftists because most of them didn't read it; they just bought it, read the intro, then put it conspicuously on the shelf to display how 'informed' they are.

  • Libertarian||

    I read Hit and Run posts for free, so this doesn't surprise me. And by "read" I mean scan the headline and make a comment.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    You get through the whole headline? What's that like?

  • Microaggressor||

    It helps to know the name of the author you're insulting.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    I just read the first 3 letters of the byline then get cracking.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    And then when you're done cracking, you clear your browser history, wash your hands, and start typing comments.

  • pan fried wylie||

    wash your hands

    If he's at work, sure. Mooby makes a big deal about that.

  • BYODB||

    "They were told that if they selected the article with which they disagreed, they would be entered in a drawing to win $10. But if they selected the more comforting, self-affirming article, they would only stand to win $7."

    So, really, it's more like people won't read articles they disagree with when the economic incentive amounts to gambling.

    I wonder what the results would be if you received $10 for reading an opposing article or received nothing for one you did agree with. Their methodology on this one is gibberish.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Just 'cause a person does science doesn't mean they're, like, smart.

  • BYODB||

    Well assuming the economic incentive is meant to mirror the intellectual gains you would get for reading opinions outside of your own wheelhouse, I think it's interesting that all of the 'gains' are entirely notional. That seems to say a certain something of the people who conducted this 'study'.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Or at least it may be measuring what people think of a marginal cost in aggravation to potential benefit given a binary choice of what to read.

    I agree I do not think they quite measured what they claim to be measuring.

  • The Real Jose||

    They methodology is not gibberish. It's carefully crafted to deliver the results they want.

    They knew that giving people $10 straight up wouldn't work. What staggering is that I suspect even giving someone as little as $3 probably means they'll read a tedious regurgitation of some talking points.

    They had to weaken it even further to just a chance of winning $3 to get the results they wanted. The whole $10 vs $7 is nothing more than a smoke screen to make their methodology look more science-y.

  • RussianPrimeMinister||

    I'd be willing to bet that's what the study looked like on the grant application, but when the "scientists" realized they could just KEEP that cash, the entire course changed overnight.

    Greed, it's what makes us great.

  • MarkLastname||

    What they should've done is had several cohorts and offered then different amounts of money, like 2, 4, 8, etc, then they'd get an estimate of the actual 'cost' of reading an article from an opposing position.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    Dude. That's the follow up study. There's gold in then there government grants.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The study gave participants two options: they could read an article about same-sex marriage that matched their own perspective...

    There are no articles that match my opinion on same-sex marriage, so I get the full money option no matter what I read on the subject. Pay up, Soave.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Well, you've got me curious.

    I've read everything from "full marriage equality" to "we should go back to locking them up" with sides of "can't we compromise with civil unions/domestic partnerships" and "government should just get out of marriage".

    So I'm curious what's so drastically different about your opinion that you don't think there are any.

  • BYODB||

    Repealing the states monopoly on recognizing private relationships, perhaps? Why is being married to two women illegal, at this point in time, let alone ten people of mixed race and genders in a big steaming pile of fluids?

    Once you erase part of that line, keeping any of it seems like bullshit.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Yeah, that'd be the "government should just get out of marriage" card. I've read articles with that thesis statement.

  • MarkLastname||

    And the study most likely assumes it's a binary position, ignoring alternatives.

  • Fist of Etiquette||


  • RussianPrimeMinister||

    Fist went to a broom jumping ceremony once, but got kicked out when he began using the broom to beat the bride and groom.

  • MarkLastname||

    I'm a big fan of complex marriage, like the Oneida society. Everything else should be banned. And no fat chicks in my commune.

  • Juice||

    "entered into a drawing" ≠ pay people

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Agreed, the study is flawed. Very flawed. They're tipping a grandiose opinion of people's willingness to engage different viewpoints on a very thin thread.

  • Johnimo||

    Yes, they're asking folks to submit themselves to intellectual torture for three hundred pennies. Fat chance! I'll barely get up off the couch for $3.

  • Social Justice is neither||

    The obvious take away from the experiment setup is people who don't play the lottery are stupid. I mean, who wouldn't want millions of dollars?

    But I guess if you're willfully ignorant of the difference between "a chance to win" and "will be paid" then sure, this totally proves voters are showing motivated ignorance.

    just my $0.02 (and that's probably more than the actual opportunity cost being foregone here).

  • OldMexican Blankety Blank||

    Study: You Literally Can't Even Pay People to Read Opinions They Disagree With

    That's not true! In the first place, nobody told ME I could make MONEY reading someone else's dopey opinions!

  • Citizen X - #6||

    You don't read Hit'n'Run at work?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    One of the study's authors, Matt Motyl, described this phenomenon as "motivated ignorance"

    That conclusion seems to be begging some questions.

  • Warren||

    The emotional comfort they would lose by being exposed to contrary information was worth more to them than $4.
    Duh? I wouldn't sell my emotional comfort for $4 either. Not even for $40. I'd probably let it go for under $400 though. And keep in mind it's not even four bucks, merely the infinitesimal chance to win an additional four bucks.

    A better study would find what that price actually is. How much do you need to pay someone before they'll allow their preconceived notions to be challenged?

  • BYODB||

    Indeed, that would actually be far more interesting to read and probably be more useful overall.

    I'm assuming that the grant only covered the salary of the 'scientists' conducting their little experiment, and not for actual payments to study participants? I mean, they all had to share the same theoretical $17 payout on this little lottery.

    That's about an hour's work, on average, for the United States but no one got the whole $17. $10 is less than I spend on lunch every day, so no, not much of a motivator. Hell, the $7 isn't even the Federal minimum.

    I can virtually guarantee that if it was a dollar payout per article people would jump on the deal, and they would almost certainly choose the $10. I think the real conclusion is that the study's author didn't want 'capitalism' screwing up their study, but they also probably don't understand what capitalism actually represents as this study appears to demonstrate.

  • Ron||

    since most people never do win why would you bother reading something you don't care about

  • TW||

    Giving someone a chance to win $7 or $10 to do something is not the same as actually paying them $7 or $10 to do something . Example: when I go out to eat at a number of chain restaurants, on my receipt I often get asked to complete an online survey within three days of my visit and write down a code in exchange for a reward. I will sometimes complete the ones that offer me a free appetizer or a discount on my next meal but I never complete the ones that enter me into a drawing to win $100. I would rather get a guaranteed payoff for my work.

    In this case, offering the study subjects a chance to win $7/$10, the researchers basically offered them NOTHING. The difference between the two is practically no difference at all. So really the only relevant factor was whether you wanted to spend your time to read eight statements you likely agreed with versus reading eight statements you likely disagreed with because chances are, you weren't going to get paid either way.

    In this case, by offering the study subjects a chance to win a really small sum of money, the researchers were basically offering them NOTHING. The difference between the chance to win seven dollars versus ten dollars is practically no difference at all. So really the only relevant factor was whether you wanted to spend your time to read eight statements you likely agreed with versus reading eight statements you likely disagreed with because chances are, you weren't going to get paid either way.

  • B.P.||

    Enter now, and you could win $10! You will most certainly receive a lifetime of spam e-mails.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    It is true that people tend to seek out opinions they agree with in a world that's full of varying opinions. But this study doesn't show that.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I think it's pretty obvious that the reason we come here is because we all agree on everything.


    We don't even all agree on the importance of NAP. I'm not sure I can think of anything we all agree on.

  • BYODB||

    I think we all agree that being technically correct is the best kind of correct?

  • RussianPrimeMinister||

    We all agree with Sean Connery that the penis is evil, right?

  • MarkLastname||

    Who here thinks naps aren't important?! Tell me who!

  • Ken Shultz||

    I'm not especially fond of the NAP myself. I have nothing against it--for the most part, usually, sorta . . .

    It's one way of seeing things. It isn't an unpardonable sin if you get to respect for human agency some other way.

    Anyway, start with Julian Sanchez's piece here:

    "The Non-Aggression Principle Can't Be Salvaged—and Isn't Even a Principle"

  • Free Society||

    Being a semi-regular reader of Robby's abject stupidity, I deserve money.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I take the above comment back.

    Free Society thought of one thing we all pretty much agree on--Robby.

    We may agree on Robby more than we do on the NAP!

  • Ken Shultz||

    I can think of other examples of the same phenomenon.

    Believe it or not, people will subscribe to magazines with articles they like, and they won't subscribe to magazines with articles they don't like! Amazing, isn't it?

    Or another example, when a website starts publishing crap articles by crap authors, whole slews of readers will stop paying attention to that site en masse. I've seen 'em do it with my own eyes! People who willingly gave thousands of dollars in hard-earned money before, will suddenly leave the site entirely and stop reading (and stop giving) when the articles no longer appeal to their tastes.

    It turns out there's this thing called "customer satisfaction". Alienate your customers, and they stop being customers--did you really need The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology to discover this phenomenon? This is a libertarian website; we already know all about markets and customer satisfaction.

    I think that's probably the bigger factor than the fear of reading something disagreeable. Hell, a lot of customers used to come here specifically to read the comments and disagree with each other. So, people are "paying" a $3 difference to read what they want? For goodness' sake, that's a magazine subscription model.

  • Jerryskids||

    Ok - show of hands time. It's obvious many of you actually read more than the headline and the byline here - how many of you were suckered into reading at least a few graphs by the reverse-psychology click-bait opening of "9 out of 10 people [i.e., duh masses] won't read this article if it's not something that confirms their biases!" Robby threw out there? He suckered you sheeple good, didn't he? He got you to read the article using this one simple trick!

  • Ken Shultz||

    Every time someone says "RTFA", we commenters should take it as a compliment.

    They don't even have to pay us write this content, and yet people come here all the time just to read the comments.

    And they aren't reading the comments looking for something they agree with either.

    Shrike may come here just 'cause he gets his jollies out of being despised.

  • TW||

    I skipped the Vox article and clicked on the link to the study instead because I wanted to see if they said which articles the study subjects would have had to read. Instead I found out that the subjects would have had to read eight statements in favor of (opposed to) SSM based on whether they supported or opposed it. The lesson from that is: if you have a chance to read the actual study or an opinion columnist telling you about the study, read the study and don't trust an opinion columnist from Reason or Vox to accurately portray it.

  • EscherEnigma||

    "if you have a chance to read the actual study or an opinion columnist telling you about the study, read the study and don't trust an [non-academic journalist to] accurately portray it."
    Fixed it for you.

    Fact is, most journalists are pretty shit at describing academic articles/studies/etc., and tend to leave out important parts or overstate conclusions or both!

    So generally speaking, even if a study sounds like shit as described (and this one does) I tend to give it the benefit of the doubt because the journalist probably isn't doing a good job selling it.

  • El Oso||

    You know who else uses one simple trick?

  • RussianPrimeMinister||

    And yet my penis isn't enlarged. How could this have happened!?

  • DRM||

    Yeah, so, what were the odds of winning, exactly, so we can do a proper expected value calculation on the difference? Or were these idiot researchers too incompetent to understand that notion?

  • Inigo Montoya||

    Generally speaking, I disagree with damn near everything I read if the subject is in any way related to politics because it's basically all statist nonsense regardless of which team it comes from.

    If there really was money to be made from reading such different-than-my-own opinions, I should be rich by now.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    Yeah I'd find something to piss me off in either list.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Reason used to have articles about how shitty this type of study is.

    Now, reason cites them.

  • misthiocracy||

    What were the odds of winning? If the person assumed they would not win any money regardless of their choice, then it's perfectly rational to choose the option that requires less mental effort.

  • Slocum||

    It seems to me like the researchers cooked the study to get the result they wanted. Some unknown chance of winning a trivial amount of extra money (expected difference in value between the two choices would be -- what -- maybe 30 cents?) isn't going to motivate anybody. On same sex marriage, the chances of me seeing a new argument on either side, at this point, is nil. So would I wade through an anti-gay marriage article for 30 cents? Nah, probably not.

  • rogerfgay||

    " if they selected the article with which they disagreed, they would be entered in a drawing to win $10" --- I'd say piss off too. Has nothing to do with what they wanted. I just don't send money to Nigerian princesses.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I guess the researchers never thought to ask, how many people just want the researchers to go away.

  • CptNerd||

    "A drawing for a chance to win?" Yeah, I wouldn't participate at all for a "chance to win" either prize.

  • DaneelOlivaw||

    This study seems fairly worthless to me. A chance of winning generally means, you'll get nothing. So the basis is nonsense.

    (I'd also like to point out that $10 - $7 tends to equal $3 in my universe, not sure where $4 comes from.)

    Now if this study was based on:
    1) You get nothing if you read what you agree with.
    2) You get $20 if you read the other, you get it here, you get it now.

    Then it might be a bit different.

    Heck you could test $10, $20, $50 and $100, to see what difference it makes.

  • ||

    Robby, have you ever considered writing your articles in emojis?

  • PlaystoomuchHALO||

    $3.00 isn't much money to read something that you consider to be crap.

  • Journeyman||

    Show me the money!

  • Entropy Drehmaschine Void||

    ▬▬▬▬▬☛O .._Do you know everybody can make $7 to $10 per day for just easiest work from home. I have made $634 Today and $18623 last month by just doing an easy job reading other people's opinions online from home. I am vey happy that I have this job now and am able to earn Thousands Dollars online. Every person can join this job now by just click on the link given below★★★◕◡◕◕ ◡◕◕◡◕____BIG.....EARN....MONEY..___❥❥❥❥❥❥❥-

    Read an article about same-sex marriage that matched their own perspective, or they could read an article about same-sex marriage that contradicted their views on the subject.

  • Robert||

    I'm seeing this in myself. I can hardly bring myself to read thru the material needed to report on why FDA sent a bunch of warning letters. The criteria seem to be nonexistent as to why this one gets warned & that one doesn't. Just trying to make sense of it grates on me.

  • Mark22||

    63% is almost chance, and "a chance to win" $10 vs $7 translates into almost no difference in actual value.

    Fake science.

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    I don't vote for smart policy.

    I vote for an asshole to give me what I want.


  • Johnimo||

    Well, Robby can make fun of everyone if he wishes, but the he's missing an important point. People frequently chose to read to gain more ammo for their own preferred position. They hope to find more powerful reasons regarding the correctness of their own beliefs.

    The wisest folks read the opposition for exactly the same reasons. And …. I'm sorry, but you can't buy most folks off with a $3 bonus ($7 to read friendly versus $10 to read the opposition) in today's world. Were the studies so poorly funded they could only afford a $3 bonus? I wouldn't cut a fart in the wind for $3.

  • Domestic Dissident||

    This is pretty much the reason why I continue to read all the fake libertarian left-wing shitbags like Rico here at Reason!

  • OGREtheTroll||

    Lets just assume that the lottery was a 1 in 100 chance of winning whatever prize you are eligible for. The expected value of each choice drops from $7 and $10 to $0.07 and $0.10. Thats hardly an incentive to do something distasteful. Most people give that away that much change each day just to not have pennies rattling around in their pockets. Seems the choices made in the study were perfectly rational.

    Would the results have been different if it wasn't a lottery but a guaranteed payout? That puts the EV back up to 7 and 10. What if the payout was 70 and 100? 70,000 and 100,000? I'm pretty certain we'd get significantly different results.

    All this study proves is that social science researchers are extremely cheap.

  • Glide||

    Good. People know what their time and happiness is worth and won't be bought for some undisclosed EV that is a small fraction of $3.

    If you're going to try and grok people's reaction to having money waved in their faces, try hundred dollar bills, not nickels.

  • Leo Kovalensky||

    I wonder how many of the 37% that read the opposing view were just hoping to troll the comments section in the end?

  • Rick Stewart||

    For $3 I don't really care. Sorry.


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