Skip to Content
MIT News: 77 Mass Ave

New insights on political polarization

Media might deepen partisan divides, but we should measure reading habits more carefully before drawing conclusions—and avoid assuming that our own thought processes are the only rational ones.

February 28, 2024
thumbs up vs thumbs down
MITTR | Unsplash

Does political polarization cause citizens to seek out partisan media sources, or do partisan media push them toward more polarized views? A study coauthored by MIT political science professors Adam Berinsky and Teppei Yamamoto and postdoc Chloe Wittenberg, PhD ’23, finds that the answer is complicated.

The researchers combined a large online survey about the news people like to read with web-browsing data tracking the news sites the participants actually visited, finding differences between the two.  

When looking at participants’ stated media preferences in the survey, the researchers found that people may be receptive to information from sources they disagree with politically. But the web-browsing data instead suggested that people are primarily influenced by news outlets they already agree with.

“Together, these results suggest that inferences about media polarization may depend heavily on how individuals’ media preferences are measured,” they write.

Meanwhile, a paper by MIT philosopher Kevin Dorst, PhD ’19, explores the logical processes that can drive polarization, arguing that people understandably scrutinize evidence that contradicts their existing point of view more aggressively than evidence that supports it. People who develop radically different views, he concludes, are not necessarily being misled or reacting emotionally but, in part, responding rationally to genuinely ambiguous information. 

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Large language models can do jaw-dropping things. But nobody knows exactly why.

And that's a problem. Figuring it out is one of the biggest scientific puzzles of our time and a crucial step towards controlling more powerful future models.

The problem with plug-in hybrids? Their drivers.

Plug-in hybrids are often sold as a transition to EVs, but new data from Europe shows we’re still underestimating the emissions they produce.

Google DeepMind’s new generative model makes Super Mario–like games from scratch

Genie learns how to control games by watching hours and hours of video. It could help train next-gen robots too.

How scientists traced a mysterious covid case back to six toilets

When wastewater surveillance turns into a hunt for a single infected individual, the ethics get tricky.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.