Reconginzing the Importance of Selective Exposure, Attention, Interpretation, and Retention in the Social Media Age.

Our society is focused more than ever on social media. With the click of a button, you can friend, follow, and block someone. This week, I read a great exert by Marianne Dainton, which discussed theories of persuasion. In PR, persuading your target audience can be an important step in a successful campaign or advertisement.

One very important aspect discussed was selective exposure, selective attention, selective interpretation and selective retention. So, what are these are why are they so important to be aware of as a PR professional in a time when social media is so present?

Selective exposure is when a person actively avoids information that goes against their previous beliefs. Selective attention states that if a person does have to expose himself or herself to information that goes against their beliefs, they will only pay attention to the information that supports their established beliefs. Next, selective interpretation suggests people will process information in ways that support and be consistent with their current ideas. Lastly, suggestive retention is when a person remembers information that supports their views, while forgetting information that goes against it (Dainton, pg.118).

In basic terms, people expose themselves to people, articles, news stories, etc. that support their beliefs. They pay attention to stories that claim they are right and look for information that says, “You are right”. Anything that goes against this creates dissonance, which is the imbalance experienced when you have two pieces of information contradicting one another.


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In a time when a large portion of the population have access to social media, they are relying more and more on the internet to view news stories, read articles, and seek out answers to questions by surfing the internet and doing Google searches. On Facebook, you read the stories your friends share and on Instagram you scroll through reviews of products posted by those you follow. But what happens when a friend of yours posts an article that contradicts your beliefs on a topic, or writes a review that you don’t agree with?

You either choose to read the opposing article and be open-minded to the data or information, or the second option, you simply press unfollow or defriend. Instead of having friendly debates that help you gain more knowledge on a subject, people become upset due to this “imbalance” they are experiencing. You decide what information you are exposed to, which websites to view, and what information to retain.

If PR professionals recognize who their target audience is, what their beliefs are, and how they can reaffirm these beliefs, instead of contradicting them, there is a better chance you will have a more receptive audience.


            Dainton, Marianne. 16 Sep. 2004, Explaining Theories of Persuasion. Sage Publications. Retrieved from:




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