Threat, authoritarianism, and selective exposure to information

Howard Lavine, Milton Lodge, Kate Freitas

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123 Scopus citations


We examined the hypothesis that threat alters the cognitive strategies used by high authoritarians in seeking out new political information from the environment. In a laboratory experiment, threat was manipulated through a "mortality salience" manipulation used in research on terror management theory (Pyszczynski, Solomon, & Greenberg, 2003). Subjects (N=92) were then invited to read one of three editorial articles on the topic of capital punishment. We found that in the absence of threat, both low and high authoritarians were responsive to salient norms of evenhandedness in information selection, preferring exposure to a two-sided article that presents the merits of both sides of an issue to an article that selectively touts the benefits of the pro or con side of the issue. However, in the presence of threat, high but not low authoritarians became significantly more interested in exposure to an article containing uniformly pro-attitudinal arguments, and significantly less interested in a balanced, two-sided article. Finally, a path analysis indicated that selective exposure to attitude-congruent information led to more internally consistent policy attitudes and inhibited attitude change. Discussion focuses on the role of threat in conditioning the cognitive and attitudinal effects of authoritarianism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-244
Number of pages26
JournalPolitical Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2005


  • Attitude change
  • Authoritarianism
  • Interactionism
  • Motivated reasoning
  • Threat


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