Political divide? Not much when it involves negative news

Political divide? Not much when it involves negative news
Stuart Soroka. Credit: University of Michigan

Here's positive news during these times of turmoil, strife and political divide: in some ways, conservatives and liberals are not that different.

Well, at least when it comes to how they react to negative versus positive information.

In fact, people in the United States and worldwide tend to react the same to positive and negative news content regardless of their , a newly published study shows.

Researchers from three universities—including the University of Michigan—explored affective, psychophysiological reactions to television news content. In essence, the researchers monitored small changes in how much people sweat while they watch the news.

And while the study is based on respondents' reactions to BBC World News stories dating back to 2014, the findings may explain how people respond to current news content, such as coverage of racism, COVID-19 and the upcoming U.S , said U-M researcher and study co-author Stuart Soroka.

Soroka, along with Patrick Fournier of Université de Montréal and Lilach Nir of Hebrew University, previously conducted work that focused on the average human tendency to prioritize negative content. In that study, the team also identified a sizable minority of respondents who were more reactive to .

In the current study, the team examined the hypothesis that conservatives exhibit stronger negativity biases. Unlike prior work on this theme, which had been based on relatively small, homogenous samples, the researchers used a much more diverse, cross-national group.

More than 1,100 study participants from 17 countries on six continents viewed BBC news stories as their reactions were captured using skin conductance, a measure of psychophysiological activation. The eight stories were either positive, such as a child who recovers from , or negative, such as a small town in Peru burns.

The variations in sweat in response to news stories was not fundamentally different for liberals than for conservatives.

"Instead, there appears to be real variation in reactivity to positive and negative news across the ," said Soroka, the Michael W. Traugott Collegiate Professor of Media and Communication & Political Science.

Soroka added that if researchers fail to find evidence of a connection between ideology and negativity bias among 17 countries on six continents, it is difficult to believe that the relationship exists among a large portion of the rest of the world.

The findings were published in the American Political Science Review.


Explore further

News consumers differ widely in their preferences for negative or positive content

More information: PATRICK FOURNIER et al. Negativity Biases and Political Ideology: A Comparative Test across 17 Countries, American Political Science Review (2020). DOI: 10.1017/S0003055420000131
Citation: Political divide? Not much when it involves negative news (2020, July 2) retrieved 5 August 2020 from https://phys.org/news/2020-07-political-involves-negative-news.html
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