The role of emotion in selective exposure, information processing, and attitudinal polarization

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2010-05

Authors

Kim, Soohee, 1980-

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Abstract

This thesis reviews the role of emotions in one’s choice of information, information processing, and political attitudes. Theoretical and empirical endeavors to date have focused primarily on how emotions influence attitudes and information processing, leaving the actual processes guiding these outcomes in the margins. Specifically, it has been largely unexplored how emotions influence individuals’ information search behavior and then attitudes and information processing. Noting that the purposeful selection of likeminded information, often referred to as selective exposure, is commonly enacted when an individual first initiates information processing, and is also likely influenced by emotions, this study explores how emotions may affect people’s tendency to seek out congruent information. In addition, this study examines how the relationship between emotions and selective exposure in turn may affect aspects of information processing and attitudes. By designing an online experiment, I first tested how certain negative emotions (anger/fear) affected one’s pursuit of certain types of information (consistent/inconsistent) and second, I investigated how these emotions and information selections influenced subsequent information processing and attitudes. Results showed that while anger motivated more likeminded exposure for Republicans than fear, fear promoted more likeminded exposure for Democrats than anger. Further, anger prompted people to process messages more closely and to develop more polarized attitudes compared to fear. In addition, pro-attitudinal exposure produced more message-relevant thoughts for Republicans than counter-attitudinal message exposure, while it was counter-attitudinal exposure that yielded more message-relevant thoughts for Democrats. No such effect, however, was shown for attitudinal polarization.

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