Monday, April 5, 2010

Priming and Levels of Political Knowledge
Beware the Moderates

We often study -- or expect to find -- nice and neat linear relationships among our variables, but it's often more complex than that.  A recent Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly article proves this point by noting theoretical explanations that argue those moderate in political knowledge act very differently than those with high or low political knowledge.

In this study they were looking at priming.  What's that?  It's how some message or factor influences how we process or remember subsequent messages.  Think of the times you've gone to a movie theatre and watched a scary film.  Come out more cautious?  Looking deeply at shadows you normally ignored?  That's priming.  It fades after a time.

According to theory, moderate levels of political knowledge should result in greater priming effects by political messages.  What theory?  Let's not get into that today, because I feel lousy and don't want to spend all this time typing, so take my word for it.

The JMCQ piece found exactly this, that "individuals with minimal knowledge are more likely to reject media primes, as are those extremely knowledgeable -- albeit for entirely different reasons."

That's damned important, that caveat.  Yeah, low and high knowledge folks act the same way in response, but for very different reasons.  High knowledge folks tend to be more experienced with politics, with news, to be more critical because they've been the subject of stories or coverage or know people who have.  Low knowledge people are more critical because of a lack of trust in institutions but mostly because they have little direct experience with media.  Thus the moderates, they're the ones most open to media primes.

There's an ultimate message here, but I'm struggling to decide exactly what it may be -- other than moderates (I consider myself politically a radical moderate who hates everyone equally) are not to be trusted.

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