Powerful emotions affect how voters seek political information

May 27, 2008

Angry and anxious voters tend to tune into the presidential race but their strong emotions might actually distract them from paying attention to the facts.

New findings by researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Texas examined the emotional state on political-information seeking. They focused on the impact of negative emotions—fear vs. anger—on interest, information-seeking and learning about politics.

"While strong emotions can enhance attention, they might also interfere with information-seeking by distracting people from the task at hand," said Nicholas Valentino, a U-T professor and the study's lead author.

The researchers conducted two experiments in which respondents sought information on the Internet about 2004 presidential candidates John Kerry and George W. Bush. The people answered questions on a computer that either induced a specific emotional state or a control condition to reduce all emotional arousal.

The first experiment found that anxious, angry and enthusiastic people claimed they were more interested than people in a controlled, relaxed setting in the presidential campaigns and would pay closer attention to the debates. Anxiety produced the strongest impact on attention. However, all three emotional states led people to take less time looking for information that was made available to them.

Anger might distract people during complex cognitive tasks, which might make them less likely to seek more information, said Vincent Hutchings, an associate political science professor at U-M.

"So even though people claim to be more interested they are less able to concentrate on the task at hand," said Hutchings, the study's co-author.

The second experiment also suggested that typical campaign coverage can trigger powerful emotions which can lead to hasty, uninformed decisions.

The researchers said the findings indicate concern about fear-mongering in politics—which Democrats and Republicans accuse the other party of committing—may be overblown.

"Outrage, perhaps, is more damaging than fear if we hope to foster an informed citizenry," Valentino said.

The study appears in a recent issue of Political Psychology. Valentino and Hutchings wrote the report with Antoine Banks and Anne Davis, both U-M political science graduate instructors.

Source: University of Michigan

Explore further: Bribery 'hits 1.6 billion people a year'

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Shark populations suffer from undue reputation

Jan 27, 2015

Sharks have been making news yet again, after a spate of sightings in Newcastle, New South Wales, prompted days of beach closures and reports of oceangoers allegedly being "stalked" by "monster" specimens. ...

School results boosted by improved focus in class

Dec 11, 2014

Researchers from the University of Adelaide say attempts to improve children's attentiveness in the early years could be rewarded with better literacy and maths abilities by ages 6-7 years.

Recommended for you

Bribery 'hits 1.6 billion people a year'

6 hours ago

A total of 1.6 billion people worldwide – nearly a quarter of the global population – are forced to pay bribes to gain access to everyday public services, according to a new book by academics at the Universities of Birmingham ...

How music listening programmes can be easily fooled

Feb 26, 2015

For well over two decades, researchers have sought to build music listening software that can address the deluge of music growing faster than our Spotify-spoilt appetites. From software that can tell you ...

Nature journal to begin offering double-blind peer review

Feb 23, 2015

Well known and respected journal, Nature, will begin next month offering researchers who submit their work for peer review, the option of having it done via the double-blind method—whereby both submitters and re ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RAL
not rated yet May 28, 2008
You think less clearly when you get angry. Who would have guessed?

Tomorrows tax dollar burn: Research indicates rain can lead to wet streets.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.