Friday, December 25, 2009

Assimilation & Contrast in a Test of the Hostile Media Effect

Albert C. Gunther
University of Wisconsin-Madison,

Nicole Miller
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Janice L. Liebhart
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Recent empirical research has vividly demonstrated the hostile media effect—the tendency for individuals highly involved in a controversial issue to see media coverage of that issue as hostile to their own point of view. This type of contrast bias—along with its assimilation counterpart—ishypothesized to stem from preexisting partisan attitudes coupled with other explanatory factors, including perceived reach of the message and characteristics of the source. To test thesepredictions, we recruited partisan respondents who were either Native American or sympathetic to native issues.

     Participants (N = 152) read information, varying in apparent circulation (low, medium and high reach) and source (friendly vs. not friendly) characteristics, on the issue of genetically modified wild rice, a controversial topic for native people in the upper Midwest. Variations in reach produced a linear trend in judgments of bias in the predicted direction. However, overall evaluations tended toward assimilation rather than contrast effects, and two distinct dimensions of partisanship produced surprising and provocative results.

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Key Words: hostile media effect • perceptual bias • assimilation • contrast • partisanship • involvement • genetic engineering


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