Resonance in the Echo Chamber: A cognitive analysis on the perception of content diversity

Pascal Verhoest, Arno Slaets

Research output: Unpublished contribution to conferenceUnpublished paper


Research on selective exposure shows that media users tend to select information that coincides with their existing values and viewpoints. Drawing on social and cognitive psychology, a second level of analysis may be added to this, which is that of selective perception. The principle of selective perception entails that are better able to correctly decode and assimilate value-consistent information than value-inconsistent information. According to schemata theory, this is explained by the high ‘resonance’ of such messages with the cognitive schemes stored in the receiver’s mind.
Drawing upon schemata theory, a method of ‘resonance analysis’ was developed to investigate how the interpretation schemes of receivers interact with representation schemes contained in media messages. The experiment conducted demonstrates that, as a perceptual issue, content diversity is not so much dependent on the variety of information inputs, but on the interaction between the ‘representation frames’ encoded in the media message and the ‘interpretation frames’ stored in peoples’ minds.
To put this method into practice, a photo elicitation test was set-up. Three different, ethnically framed press photographs were shown to a sample of 60 randomly chosen respondents per photograph (n=180). A cluster analysis of these perceptions revealed that people interpret the same photographs in different ways according to their attitudes.
The analysis of these clusters suggests that the interaction between strongly framed representations and strongly articulated interpretation frames are conducive of a loss of interpretative diversity at the level of perception. The extent to which, however, depends on the strength of the ideological attitudes of receivers and the way the articulation of these attitudes are influences by the social context. The interplay of those factors may, under certain conditions, generate echo chamber effects and contribute to a polarization of opinions.


ConferenceEuropean Communication Research Association
Abbreviated titleECREA
Internet address


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