People seek balanced political information to defend their positions

Aug 27, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- When they know they will be engaged in a debate and have to defend their positions, anxious citizens seek out a balance of viewpoints about candidates, a new University of Michigan study shows.

When they have no reason to believe that balanced search is useful, anxiety pushes respondents to view only information on the Internet from their favorite candidate.

The findings expand the scope of the debate about the impact of emotions in politics.

"Anxiety suppresses the likelihood that individuals will expose themselves to counter-attitudinal information unless they believe the information at their disposal will be useful in some way," said lead author Nicholas Valentino, associate professor of communication studies and political science.

The study was conducted in a computer lab from Oct. 14 to Nov. 1, 2004. The sample size was 305, consisting of local residents, mostly students, living on or near campus. Participants completed a pretest that included questions on media information, partisanship and values.

They were randomly assigned to conditions intended to induce anger, fear and enthusiasm where subjects are asked to recall and focus on events, people or occurrences that caused them to experience a given emotion. The respondents focused on emotions caused by the 2004 .

The Web sites were standardized for both candidates: information was organized into issue-based and biographical information of the candidates. The Bush-Cheney site contained pages involving jobs and the economy, compassion and values, education, health care, safety and security, and the environment and energy. The Kerry-Edwards Web site contained pages on national security, economy and jobs, health care, energy independence, homeland security, education and the environment. Software tracked which specific pages on these sites were being visited, in which order, and for how long.

Participants could visit Web sites of the presidential candidates to learn about the campaign, and were allowed to switch back and forth between the Web sites to compare information. The online environment was closed, so subjects could not navigate away from the candidate sites to visit other locations on the Web.

A substantial proportion of our sample looked at information from both candidates' Web sites. Forty-nine percent of them viewed both pages, and 56 percent of partisans viewed the opposing candidate's information.

Vincent Hutchings, associate professor of political science, said although this study involved presidential candidates, the findings could be applicable to the recent heated debates about at town halls nationwide.

In addition to Valentino and Hutchings, Anne Davis, a doctoral candidate in the U-M Department of Political Science, and Antoine Banks, an assistant professor of at the University of Maryland, wrote the study.

The findings appear in the recent issue of Political Psychology.

Provided by University of Michigan (news : web)

Explore further: Society bloomed with gentler personalities and more feminine faces

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Spouses as campaign surrogates

Apr 23, 2008

Spouses of presidential candidates are employed in campaigns more strategically and intensively than ever before. New research by political scientists concludes that the ability of presidential and vice-presidential candidates’ ...

Gender is a relative term in politics, study finds

Sep 30, 2008

For only the second time in presidential debate history, a female nominee will take the stage to spar with a male opponent. While Geraldine Ferraro broke new ground in 1984, it has taken 24 years for another female to be ...

Recommended for you

Soccer's key role in helping migrants to adjust

16 hours ago

New research from the University of Adelaide has for the first time detailed the important role the sport of soccer has played in helping migrants to adjust to their new lives in Australia.

Congressional rift over environment influences public

Jul 31, 2014

American citizens are increasingly divided over the issue of environmental protection and seem to be taking their cue primarily from Congress, finds new research led by a Michigan State University scholar.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

otto1923
not rated yet Aug 27, 2009
"[Noam] Chomsky along with his coauthor, Edward S. Herman has written that the American media manufactures consent among the public."-wiki. The only things we know are what we are given to know.