Friday, February 13, 2009

Emotion and Political Information Seeking

Does strong affect (emotion) influence political information seeking? Yes, according to a study in the journal Political Psychology. But in mixed ways.

Several emotions appeared to increase campaign interest, with anxious, angry, and enthusiastic subjects saying they were more interested in the presidential race and would pay more attention as compared to those in a control group. Okay. Makes sense. And now the BUT of the study. "However, all three emotional states led subjects to take less time looking for information that was made available to them."

In other words, manipulating emotion led to them saying they'd seek out more info, but in reality they didn't.

A second experiment by Valentino and his colleagues gets at one point I'd like to discuss briefly, that anger did not "enhance the quantity or quality of information seeking" nor did it aid in learning.

Think about this in terms of TV and radio shows hosted by people who do little more than generate anger toward "the other side" in a debate. That emotional response, these experiments suggest, leads to no additional information seeking. In other words -- pissed off people don't look for more info on a topic. That's bad. That's bad for democracy, that's bad for news, that's bad for the people who let themselves get angry and it's bad that hosts use anger as a tool and play a role in getting people to not seek out additional information.

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