Information filters

We interact with others to learn and make effective decisions. Personal and Source filters can be useful in understanding people information processing in social setting.

Our personal experience is greatly influenced by other people. All information that we have ever learnt has been obtained from others or from personal experience by trial-and-error. Indeed, the research in social psychology and neuroscience suggests that people pay close attention to information source that plays an important role in how we perceive information (Van Bavel & Pereira, 2018).

People perceive information in two general ways — from personal and social perspectives .When we receive information from other people (or groups of people), we make assumptions about them — e.g., how reliable or attractive ( i.e., status) they are, how similar they are to us and whether they possess authority, or expertise in the information they communicate (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). To make these judgements we use information filtering process based on our personal experience and judgements of source of information.

Personal filter

Personal filter describes the idea that we tend to attend to engaging (e.g, novel) information. Personal filter helps to understand what information is useful specifically for the receiver (us). Think about how you feel when you read news about issues, such as on patriotic values, the problem of dependence of drugs, poverty or personal responsibility in climate change. These topics are controversial, because they promote strong opinions in people with different personal experience — this is personal information filter at work.

When we consider information, it is interpreted to fit our personal experience.

Consider this question: Is immigration beneficial to a global economy? Issues like this might be controversial and promote emotive response. This is becayse people become emotionally attached to what they consider “us vs. them” problem due to cultural or group beliefs.

Depending on what views we already hold (and how strong they are), new information can be difficult to accept. When we learn uncomfortable information that attacks our identity (e.g., suggests an opposite political viewpoint) and evokes emotional response (e.g., the viewpoint is negatively charged), we feel threatened and try to defend our identity via defending our viewpoint.

Source filter

People are more likely to accept information from others who shares personal identity or values. Source filter describes the idea that when other people provide personal information to others they filter social sources of information, i.e., who to listen to. To better understand what this is all about, here is a statement: culture and genes are interconnected*. You might think that this is a valid assumption, but still consider whether the author can be trusted on this. You might accept this information or not — but better always check from another source.

Social filter helps us to decide whether to be skeptical or fully open to the delivered information .This filter helps people to gather information, from trustworthy and knowledgeable sources. Depending on the source, we can be fast to accept received information and use in personal decision-making, or don’t accept it since we might distrust it. In other words, social filter can be viewed as a collection of specific viewpoints of other people who we trust.

Filter how?

The best learning strategy is to use social and personal learning interchangeably — e.g., doing personal media research and engaging in discussions. But, information is complex, how to navigate it? Trying to be friendly should is often enough:

  1. Identify values and motives of information source. To establish the validity and intention of delivered information ask yourself (or them): what are the values and motives in sharing this information with you?
  2. Take a step back (breath) and think how you feel when discussing some information. What we feel about some aspects of our identity may hold us back to have an open discussion.
  3. Be as impartial as you can. Even though it’s impossible to be completely impartial, however, the less personal you feel about information, the more clearly you can see the strengths and weaknesses of it.
  4. If impartiality does not come naturally, try to consider several perspectives of the issue. Think of a different (e.g, opposite) perspective — if you are a conservative discussing drug legalisation, think of liberal values of choice without being penalised for it. It is also useful to apply “global perspective” —what perspective would a random person on this planet have? Or is your perspective solely applicable to your personal life?

We all use information filters, and it’s great — we learn better when we are surrounded by other people. Next time you talk with others about a controversial topic, think of Editorial and Identity filter.

*As genes affect our culture and traditions, the way culture is structured can also shape our genes.

*You still might be wondering, what is the answer to the immigration question? A good way to start is to think about measures of surplus.


Nyhan, B., Porter, E., Reifler, J., & Wood, T. (2017). Taking Corrections Literally But Not Seriously? The Effects of Information on Factual Beliefs and Candidate Favorability. SSRN Electronic Journal.

Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1986). The Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion. Communication and Persuasion, 19, 1–24.

Van Bavel, J. J., & Pereira, A. (2018). The Partisan Brain: An Identity-Based Model of Political Belief The Role of Identity in Political Belief. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 0(0).

Originally posted in Money on the Mind:

Psychology of Information. Biased by Alina Gutoreva (Psych@Warwick)

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