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University of Wisconsin–Madison

PACE Lab uncovers roots of hostile media perception

The Physiology and Communication Effects (PACE) Lab’s 2017 data collection examining the psychophysiological roots of thehostile media perception will be presented at the International Communication Association conference in Prague in May, 2018. “The Affective and Physiological Underpinning of Hostile Media Perception: Perceptions of Media Accuracy and Influence” reports the result of an experiment in which 106 participants viewed a media statement from a fictional member of Congress that varied, by experimental condition, the extremity of language used by the congressperson. Results indicate that even when controlling for self-reported emotions, the hostile media perception can be explained, in part, by the physiological reactions that individuals have to watching a news clip. Participants who saw the news clip to be more inaccurate did not self-report experiencing higher levels of negative emotions. Rather, physiological response (measured by skin conductance) correlated negatively with perceived accuracy, even after controlling for self-reported emotions. While self-reported emotions did not explain accuracy, the more participants rated the clip to be inaccurate, the more they were physiologically aroused. The results suggest that some elements of the hostile media perception are driven by non-conscious responses to the media people encounter. The paper was written by SJMC Ph.D. alum Stephanie Tsang, a Research Assistant Professor of Journalism at Hong Kong Baptist University and Michael W. Wagner, the SJMC faculty director of the PACE Lab. Currently, the PACE Lab is gathering data for a series of studies examining the physiological roots of individual perceptions of fact-checking. That project is being led by SJMC graduate students Jianing Li and Jordan Foley.

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