Westerwick, A., Sude, D.J., Robinson, M., & Knobloch-Westerwick, S. (in press, 2020). Peers versus pros: Confirmation bias in selective exposure to user-generated versus professional media messages and its consequences. Mass Communication and Society. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15205436.2020.1721542
Political information is now commonly consumed embedded in user-generated content and social media. Hence, peer users (as opposed to professional journalists) have become frequently encountered sources of such information. This experiment tested competing hypotheses on whether exposure to attitude-consistent versus -discrepant political messages (confirmation bias) depends on association with peer versus professional sources, through observational data and multi-level modeling. Results showed the confirmation bias was differentiated, as attitude importance fostered it only in the peer sources condition: When consuming user-generated posts on political issues, users showed a greater confirmation bias the more importance they attached to a specific political issue. Furthermore, exposure generally affected attitudes in line with message stance, as attitude-consistent exposure reinforced attitudes, while attitude-discrepant exposure weakened them (still detectable a day after exposure). Attitude impacts were mediated by opinion climate perceptions.
For a brief summary, please see the Publications section.
Garrett, R.K., Sude, D.J., & Riva, R. (2019, in press). Toeing the party lie: Ostracism promotes endorsement of partisan falsehoods. Political Communication. https://doi.org/10.1080/10584609.2019.1666943
Research suggests that ostracism could promote endorsement of partisan falsehoods. Socially excluded individuals are uniquely attentive to distinctions between in-groups and out-groups, and act in ways intended to promote group belonging, potentially including a greater willingness to accept claims made by other group members. We test this assertion with a 2 (ostracism) X 2 (anonymity) X 2 (topic) mixed factorial design using the Ostracism Online paradigm with a demographically diverse online sample of Americans (N = 413). Results suggest that when ostracized, both Democrats and Republicans are more likely to endorse party-line falsehoods about the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. These effects are contingent on several individual-level differences, including strength of ideological commitment, cognitive reflection, and faith in intuition for facts. These patterns failed to replicate with fracking, a politically charged science topic.
Had the joy of giving two presentations at the 2019 International Communication Association conference in DC. Even the Tuesday session (end of conference) was pleasantly packed.
First presentation focused on a finding where the gender of the author of a political opinion piece was more influential in shaping whether people selected and spent time reading that piece than the stance of its political content! In other words, our cross-partisan identities sometimes matter more than our partisan ones and can foster “reading across party lines.” Work was the product of a collaboration with Dr. Westerwick and Dr. Knobloch-Westerwick, as well as the lab’s talented undergraduate programmers.
My second talk was on belief polarization in response to social exclusion (in collaboration with Dr. Garrett and Dr. Riva). We looked (with a national panel survey) at whether Democrats and Republicans who had just been socially excluded would be more resistant to a political fact check message. The Democrat-targeted message was about Russian tampering with vote counts; the Republican-targeted message was about vote fraud. After exclusion, weaker partisans were just as inaccurate as strong partisans. This both shows that a need to affiliate can drive belief polarization and that even every day social exclusion can have important impacts in a world where news is increasingly consumed on social media.
Lots of good questions at the end of both talks!
Sude, D., Knobloch-Westerwick, S., Robinson, M., & Westerwick, A. (2019). “Pick and choose” opinion climate: How browsing of political messages shapes public opinion perceptions and attitudes. Communication Monographs, 4, 457-478. https://doi.org/10.1080/03637751.2019.1612528
High-choice media environments allow people to cocoon themselves with like-minded messages (confirmation bias), which could shape both individual attitudes and perceived prevalence of opinions. This study builds on motivated cognition and spiral of silence theory to disentangle how browsing political messages (both selective exposure as viewing full articles and incidental exposure as encountering leads only) shapes perceived public opinion and subsequently attitudes. Participants (N = 115) browsed online articles on controversial topics; related attitudes and public opinion perceptions were captured before and after. Multi-level modeling demonstrated a confirmation bias. Both selective and incidental exposure affected attitudes per message stance, with stronger impacts for selective exposure. Opinion climate perceptions mediated selective exposure impacts on attitudes.