How Party Affiliation Conditions the Experience of Dissonance and Explains Polarization and Selective Exposure

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Abstract

Objectives: Dissonance theory has been widely studied in the social sciences, especially given its implications for polarization and selective exposure. This study expands previous research by investigating how this process may differ when a foundational political identity such as party affiliation is at stake. Methods: This study adapts a classic dissonance paradigm-writing a counterattitudinal essay under conditions of high versus low choice-to a political context by manipulating the topic of the essay to advocating membership in the opposing political party. Results: In this context, party affiliation conditions response to writing a counterattitudinal essay: only Republican respondents demonstrate heightened dissonance, selective exposure, and polarization as a result of this task, particularly when the essay is political. Conclusions: Dissonance may not be a universal response to potentially arousing tasks, but if only some groups experience dissonance and polarization after enumerating the benefits of an opposing party, it may bias democratic functioning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)487-502
Number of pages16
JournalSocial Science Quarterly
Volume96
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015

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