Can I Stick to My Guns? Motivated Reasoning and Biased Processing of Balanced Political Information
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Brenes-Peralta, C. (Carlos); Wojcieszak, M. (Magdalena); Lelkes, Y. (Yphtach). "Can I Stick to My Guns? Motivated Reasoning and Biased Processing of Balanced Political Information". Communication & Society. 34 (2), 2021, 49 - 66
News media offer balanced political messages and many citizens also seek content that presents two sides of a political issue. Despite this supply and demand, most work on information processing tests exposure to one-sided content, i.e., either pro- or counter-attitudinal. We advance this work by studying (1) how balanced and one-sided messages affect information processing; (2) whether the processing of balanced information is moderated by individual motivations; and (3) the impact of balanced exposure on attitude polarization. Using an online experiment (N = 677), we primed either accuracy or defensive motivation and examined how participants processed information about two distinct issues (i.e., climate change and Syrian refugees). On both issues, participants were less biased in response to balanced content, compared to one-sided content. In addition, defensive and accuracy motivated people processed balanced content in a similar manner. Furthermore, pro-attitudinal content polarized individual attitudes, but not balanced content, and this effect was not moderated by motivation.

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