New research shows that negatively framed political attitudes (“I don’t like Obama”) are stronger than positively framed attitudes (“I like Romney”).
For the study, Dr. George Bizer, a psychology professor at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., and his colleagues presented volunteers with information about two fictional candidates — one conservative, one liberal — for a position on a government board.
After reading about the two candidates, some participants were asked if they “supported” or “opposed” the liberal candidate, while others were asked about the conservative candidate.
The researchers found that when the candidates were vying for a local government board, participants who were led to frame their opinions negatively — regardless of their underlying preference — expressed more certainty about their attitudes than the participants who were led to frame their opinions positively.
When the candidates were vying for a distant government board, the effect did not emerge, according to the researchers.
Follow-up experiments replicated these findings, the researchers add, noting that in the second experiment, the “opposers” were more certain than supporters, but only when the participants were able to think carefully about the candidates.
“Our prior research showed that framing an opinion in terms of opposition yields stronger attitudes than does framing it in terms of support,” said Bizer.
“The most interesting point from our latest research is that this effect is actually stronger when people process the messages more deeply — when they are motivated and have been able to think about the issue. But when people are not motivated and able, the effect goes away.
“So, perhaps counter-intuitively, the people who care the most about the issues or candidates seem more likely to be affected by the bias.”
Dr. Bizer’s co-authors in the study were Iris Žeželj, Ph.D., from the University of Belgrade, and doctoral student Jamie Luguri from Yale University.
The study was published in the British Journal of Social Psychology.
Source: Union College