The Incestuous Amplification Effect

"  Incestuous Amplification: A condition in warfare where one only listens to those who are already in lock-step agreement, reinforcing set beliefs and creating a situation ripe for miscalculation."

-Jane's Defense Weekly

If some people only listen to people or broadcast programming that supports their viewpoints, they become more polarized and less willing to consider other (sometimes better informed) views.

This ongoing process, called incestuous amplification, springs from three psychological defense mechanisms we'll discuss.

Over time, incestuous amplification makes the compromises necessary for progress within a democratic society less likely. In addition, this can degenerate into a highly destructive "us" and "them" mentality.

>> For the media there can be a ratings advantage in catering to and promoting the preferred beliefs of audience segments.

 These people may only want to hear from people they agree with  -- i.e., people who will not challenge or dispute their beliefs. Therefore, the "hold" of these media outlets over their particular audience grows, and other media outlets are seen as biased.

>> As the isolation from other ideas continues and the confined views become more and more dominant, the "thems" can become the enemy. Throughout history we've seen how this can turn into a need for "us" to save society from "them." This can develop into a patriotic or religious duty and even wars.

If the incestuous amplification expands, as it has in some small segments of our society -- generally spurred on by sub-sections of the Internet * -- violence (in the name of what is believed as being "right) can become an accepted, even lauded response.

>> Incestuous amplification is almost always accompanied by the following three defense mechanisms.

The Personal Defense Mechanisms

1. First is selective exposure, where individuals try to minimize exposure to ideas that run contrary to their own beliefs. In this way their views have little chance of being challenged or changed even though important new facts emerge. 

Those who try to limit their own exposure (or other people's exposure) to new ideas may be creating a situation that actually works against them in the long run.

 Studies -- especially those associated with brainwashing -- indicate that people who do not have a chance to compare and defend their ideas are most apt to abandon them when they are confronted with an opposing view -- even though that opposing view is unsound.

However, those who have had ample opportunity to test and defend their views are most likely to hold on to them when they are challenged.

Interestingly, some radio talk show hosts screen their guests so that no one who holds a view contrary to their own will be featured.

Rather than welcome the chance to confront what they think is an inferior idea and stimulate thinking, they seem to fear such ideas. Thus, you can often tell how a secure a person is in their personal beliefs by how well they tolerate opposing beliefs.

2. The second defense mechanism is selective perception. In this case when individuals are presented with ideas or data that contradict their beliefs, they refuse to "see" or recognize the information.

If, despite their efforts, they have to confront these ideas, these individuals may try to discredit the source, or attribute the ideas to an incompetent, corrupt, or evil source.

Sources of information that contradict "approved ideas" are forbidden to be freely discussed and  considered. This approach has long been used in some conservative religions, and more recently in right-wing political movements.

You even find the suppression of "non approved" ideas in some university classrooms where, according to the definition of university, the open debate of ideas is supposed to be encouraged.

3. Finally, there is selective recall. Simply put, some people tend to remember things that support their viewpoints and conveniently forget those that don't.

For example, after a TV program is shown which contradicts some of their personal beliefs, they tend to remember only those facts that support their original beliefs. Or, they may remember "different facts," and feel that the program actually supported our views. 

All of these defense mechanisms have been demonstrated in studies.

* A recent study done by the Pew Research Center found that people who regularly watch Fox News were far more likely to distrust other news sources. The study found that the level of mistrust among regular Fox News listeners went significantly beyond the attitudes of the general population -- Republicans or Democrats.

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