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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Author: amlacey

UW “Contentious Politics” Group Lands $411K Grant to Study Communication and Democratic Crises in Wisconsin

University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication scholars were rewarded in April for their cutting-edge research examining how the growing polarization and fragmentation in the Wisconsin media ecology, as reflected in talk radio, local news, political advertising and social media, contributed to the ideological and partisan polarization of Wisconsin citizens.

UW SJMC professors Lew Friedland, Dhavan Shah, Mike Wagner, and Chris Wells are collaborating with Kathy Cramer in political science, Karl Rohe in statistics and Bill Sethares in electrical and computer engineering on the $411,000 project. The team was funded by the UW2020: WARF Discovery Initiative competition for their research project “Communication Ecologies, Political Contention and Democratic Crisis.”

The Civic Culture and Contentious Politics group has been working on issues relating to contentious politics and communication in democratic life for a number of years. In 2017, the group published their most recent major article from the project in their discipline’s top journal.

Integrating survey data with focus group data of citizen conversation, “When We Stop Talking Politics: The Maintenance and Closing of Conversation in Contentious Times” was featured in the Journal of Communication and news coverage across the state.

The article followed up on the theoretical grounding published in the 2014 The Good Society article, “Cultural Worldviews and Contentious Politics: Evaluative Asymmetry in High-Information Environments.”

In 2018, the group hosted a major conference, “Communication, Populism and the Crisis of Democracy,” featuring presentations from the UW group and scholars from across the U.S. and Europe. They will present the next iterations of the project at the Global Media Studies Network ICA preconference on Global Populism at Central European University, Budapest and the 2018 International Communication Association conference in Prague in May.

The UW2020 grant and assorted funding from the PIs also employs a small army of UW SJMC graduate student project assistants and collaborators, including Aman Abishek, Jordan Foley, Ceri Hughes, Josephine Lukito, Meredith Metzler, Jiyoun Suk, Zhongkai Sun and Jeff Tischauser. The UW2020 initiative stimulates high-impact, groundbreaking research – the UW Civic Culture and Contentious Politics group project was chosen to receive funding from over 100 campus-wide proposals.


New Research on News Exposure, Second Screening from ICRG

On perception of income inequality, shows a negative relationship with news exposure in Colombia, but also a positive link between entertainment content and citizens’ understanding of income gaps. Moreover, findings suggest that more realistic perceptions of inequality, shaped by media exposure, are positively associated with redistributive policies and participation behaviors. Link.


On second screening, provides evidence of persistent digital divides in terms of ICT access, ICT use, and second screening for news. This study examines how socioeconomic status (SES) relates to the adoption of second screening practices and explores the consequences of divides for democratic engagement. Link.

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.

VGRG Publishes in Entertainment Computing

Karyn Riddle, Zhen Di, Sunghak Kim, Eunyoung Myung, Swee Kiat Tay, and Fangxin Xu published their study, “The unexpected comfort of wearing headphones: Emotional and cognitive effects of headphone use when playing a bloody video game,” in Entertainment Computing. The study tested the theory of vivid media violence, exploring whether the presence of blood in a violent game and the use of headphones impacts emotions (frustration, fear, anxiety) and the level of cognitive elaboration. Results of an experiment suggest participants felt stronger negative emotions when playing a bloody game with headphones off. When the video game was not bloody, headphones did not affect emotions. In addition, frustration was related to cognitive elaboration whereas fear and anxiety were not. Implications for research exploring discrete emotions, as well as the intersection between auditory and visual features in video games, are discussed.

MCRC Team Conducts Online Experiments About Message Accuracy

The MCRC 2017-2018 research team has developed two parallel online experiments examining citizen information processing and judgments about message accuracy. Project 1 compares the priming effects of different ways of presenting fact-checking articles. It examines the perceived value and perceived influence of fact-checking, as well knowledge accuracy regarding e-cigarettes. Project 2 examines priming effects of digital literacy materials on audiences’ motivation and capability to detect fake Twitter accounts. Moreover, it investigates the effect of pre-existing values and political orientations on judgments about information veracity.

HITS Researchers Involved in New $4.2 Million NIH Grant

The two-thirds of Medicare patients being treated for at least three chronic health problems account for a stunning 90 percent of Medicare spending. UW-Madison researchers received a $4.2 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant through the UW–Madison’s Center for Health Enhancement Systems Studies (CHESS).  The team working on the grant includes David Gustafson, Jane Mahoney, Randy Brown, Louise Mares, and Dhavan Shah. They wil develop a new e-health intervention called Chronic Condition Health Enhancement Support System, or C-CHESS that builds upon the success of previous CHESS applications for conditions like cancer, asthma and alcoholism. They will recruit 330 older adults diagnosed with at least three of four conditions: hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes and osteoarthritis. Half the participants will use the C-CHESS electronic health system. The rest will be instructed to review websites related to their conditions.  The project will take five years to complete.


SMAD Research Featured in Washington Post

The Social Media and Democracy group’s research on social media discourse after mass shootings was featured in the Washington Post! The report summarizes the results of the analysis of 1.3 million tweets and 700 related hashtags related to mass shootings.  SMAD researchers found that the emotional expressions that immediately followed mass shootings, typified by phrases like “thoughts and prayers,” were short lived.  In contrast, posts advocating gun control became more prevalent in the online debate, varying in intensity depending on whether the victims were women and children (more volume) or had higher proportions of African-American victims (less volume). This faded over the days following the event.  However, tweets defending the Second Amendment and standing against any new restrictions remained much more constant and less dependent on event factors.


CCCP Hosts Communication and Populism Symposium

The Civic Culture and Contention Politics Group, with support from the UW’s Center for European Studies, hosted an international symposium and workshop entitled “Communication, Populism, and the Crisis of Democracy.” The symposium explored how democracies across Europe and the Americas are in crisis due to the rise of populism, spurred by the perceived lack of legitimacy of existing processes and institutions in the eyes of vast numbers of their citizens. Speakers considered how growing polarization and fragmentation in the media ecology, as reflected in partisan media, broadcast content, political advertising and social media, has contributed to ideological and partisan political divides. Speakers included Julia Azari, Lance Bennett, Sheri Berman, Sven Engesser, Frank Esser, Karolina Koc Michalska, Daniel Kreiss, Jorg Matthes, Pippa Norris, Deb Roy, Talia Jomini Stroud, Silvio Waisbord, and of course, UW faculty Kathy Cramer, Lew Friedland, Dhavan Shah, Mike Wagner, and Chris Wells, along with our students Jiyoun Suk, Ceri Hughes, Jordan Foley, Aman Abhishek, and Meredith Metzler. The project work the Wisconsin team presented was recently awarded a UW 2020 research grant for $411,000 to study contentious politics in Wisconsin through the upcoming election cycles.


MCRC Research 2016-2017

MCRC’s 2016-2017 project conducted a national survey of American citizens on the eve of 2016 presidential election. Data were collected on citizens’ political ideology, values, and worldviews, issue positions, and voting behaviors. A series of cluster analysis identified voter types based on a host of enduring values and worldviews. Results revealed interesting patterns of association between and among partisan and independent voters. Interestingly, the clusters grouped together voters across traditional party and ideological boundaries, indicating that even in this era of political polarization, American citizens have more in common than we might think. Results from this study have been presented in a series of papers at several national conferences.