Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Paul D. Windschitl
Previous research has demonstrated that the political ideology one adopts is strongly influenced by three social-cognitive motives: motives to reduce uncertainty, manage threats, and experience solidarity.
The goal of the current studies was to examine the possibility that this relationship might also work in reverse, with political ideology influencing social-cognitive motives. To this end, four studies examined the impact of conservative cues on need for cognitive closure (NFCC), a measure of motivation to reduce uncertainty, and tested between three accounts of the impact of conservative cues on selective exposure (SE) to confirming information, the primary measure of NFCC in the current studies. Studies 1-3 examined how exposure to the American flag, a conservative cue, impacted SE (Studies 1 and 3) and the accessibility of NFCC (Study 2). Study 4 examined how exposure to partisan news sources impacted SE. Exposure to conservative cues may increase SE by making political group membership salient, resulting in the defensive engagement in SE to maintain a positive view of one's political in-group (social identity account), or by priming the political stereotype that conservatives are high in NFCC, which individuals (stereotype priming account) or only conservatives (active self-concept account) assimilate towards.
The four studies produced mixed results, but overall, were most supportive of the stereotype priming account. Specifically, there was evidence that exposure to conservative cues increased SE (Studies 1 and 3) and made NFCC more accessible (Study 2). Additionally, these results were not moderated by political ideology, as predicted by the active self-concept account, and there was no evidence of increased affiliation with one's political in-group, as predicted by the social identity account. In Study 4, exposure to the conservative news source reduced SE compared to exposure to the moderate and liberal news sources, results inconsistent with all three accounts. Theoretical and practical implications, as well the complexities of the current studies' results, are discussed.
cognitive closure, confirmation bias, information seeking, politics, selective exposure, social prime
Copyright 2014 Aaron Scherer