Monday, January 12, 2009

Direct and Indirect Info

Are there differences in how people evaluate and learn from politicians directly versus mediated versions of what a politician said through journalists?

Kinda. Sometimes. In certain ways.

Direct accounts from politicians are more convincing and inspire greater optimism about the political process, according to a spanking new study in American Politics Research. No doubt those pesky journalists create problems and conflicts, raise difficult questions, or simply quote the other side. The end result is rather obvious, I think. Instead of one side, one clear message, journalists try to round out the story and even raise criticism of the message. Can't say I'm overly surprised by this, but still it verifies what we all suspected.

While subjects in the experiment found arguments by a politician more convincing in the unmediated version, little overall persuasion was seen. I find this fascinating in and of itself, because you'd expect more.

Also little difference was seen in learning from the two messages.

But let's look at this last one more carefully. It's a self-report of learning, not an objective measure of what they took away from the stories. Below is the info drawn from the study methodology:

From reading this article, would you say that you have learned anything new about (the policy) controversy? That is to say, have you encountered novel or interesting ideas and facts? A good number of new ideas and facts, A few new ideas and facts, Not much new here.

As I've discussed before, this is more a measure of self efficacy or perceived knowledge than one of actual learning from a stimulus, so I don't think we learn a great deal here and we certainly can't say there is a difference in what people know about these issues depending on whether journalists mediated the message or a politician got to provide the message without dealing with those annoying journalists.

The study by Brian J. Fogarty and Jennifer Wolak is interesting and seeing an experimental approach is always welcome. At the end they say:
We expected that balance and objectivity connected to journalistic accounts would promote learning in a way political accounts would not. However, we do not find such normative benefits. Instead, the unique effects of media interpretation tend to be negative, boosting cynicism and weakening the perceived persuasiveness of claims.

They seem to act like this is a bad thing. Obviously I disagree, and "promote learning" is a huge leap given the way they measured learning. If there is a flaw in an otherwise good, solid study, it's this.

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