Driven to Extremes? Motivated Bias and Attitude Polarization in One-Sided Communication Flows
26 Pages Posted: 3 Jan 2011 Last revised: 11 Jul 2012
Date Written: July 10, 2012
As political elites become more polarized, and political rhetoric becomes increasingly conflictual, normative concerns have emerged about the state of citizen opinion. Do citizens weigh information even-handedly, or is their focus more myopic? Are citizens driven to extremes by exposure to one-sided rhetoric from elites? Using a novel experimental design, I assess the extent to which individuals’ attitudes toward marijuana legalization are influenced by targeted arguments in favor or opposition. Exposure to targeted argumentation leads to biased information processing on the part of subjects, with normatively concerning implications for opinion. Results suggest that biased processing leads to polarized opinion not only on the targeted issue, but also spreads to unrelated issues. These effects are moderated only by accessibility of prior beliefs. These findings suggest a point of concern for the objectivity of citizens when faced with one-sided political debate.
Keywords: Attitudes, motivated reasoning, persuasion
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