The need for cognition as a moderator in the association between news media
skepticism and exposure
Department of Communication
University of Haifa, Israel
Joseph N. Cappella
The Annenberg School for Communication
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA USA
Send correspondence to:
Dr. Yariv Tsfati, Department of Communication
University of Haifa, Haifa, 31905 Israel
Email: [log in to unmask]
Fax: (++972) – 4 - 8249120
This paper is based on parts of the first author's doctoral dissertation
research, conducted under the supervision of the second author at the
Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania. The authors
are grateful to the dissertation committee members – Elihu Katz and Vincent
Price – for their ideas and suggestions. The Electronic Dialogue project
was funded by a grant to Vincent Price and Joseph N. Cappella by Pew
Charitable Trusts. The views expressed are those of the authors alone.
Prior research has found only modest associations between news media trust
and exposure. Many news skeptics report moderate to high levels of
mainstream news exposure, despite their mistrust of mainstream news. Why do
people watch news they do not trust? This study investigates the
moderating role played by the psychological construct of "the need for
cognition" in this association. A need for cognition by media skepticism
interaction is hypothesized and tested on survey data (n = 424). Results
provide evidence for such an interaction. For those with a reduced need for
cognition, mainstream media skepticism is strongly associated with news
exposure. As the need for cognition increases, the association between news
skepticism and exposure disappears. It is concluded that people consume
news they do not trust when their media skepticism is irrelevant to their
motivation for news exposure.
The need for cognition as a moderator in the association between news
media skepticism and exposure
Research in the social sciences shows that trust plays a part in almost
every human interaction. For example, trust in politicians is related to
political participation, trust in our teammates is related to teamwork,
trust in health care providers facilitates effective treatment. However,
media scholars investigating the correlation between trust in news
organizations and news media exposure have found only minor, albeit in most
cases significant, associations (Kiousis, 2001; Rimmer & Weaver, 1987). In
terms of explained variance, news media skepticism accounts for only a
fraction of the variance in news exposure. Tsfati and Cappella (2001)
estimated that there was a minimal difference—only 1.6 days per
week—between the amount of time the most skeptical and least skeptical
audiences spent watching national network television news. They found that
even the most skeptical audience members watch the national and local news
on television and read daily newspapers.
Why do people watch what they do not trust? One answer might be that news
gratifies diverse needs even when trust is abrogated. This paper explores
the moderating role of the psychological "need for cognition" (NC) in the
association between media trust and exposure. It is argued that for people
with a high level of NC, the need to think, to understand, to make sense of
the world, and to learn about various points of view motivates news
exposure, regardless of whether the news media are perceived as trustworthy
Trust as a consequential phenomenon.
Fukuyama (1995) defines trust as "the expectation that arises within a
community of regular, honest and cooperative behavior, based on commonly
shared norms. Those norms can be about deep 'value' questions like the
nature of God or justice, but they also encompass secular norms like
professional standards and codes of behavior" (p. 26). In trust relations
there are, at the very least, two sides: the side that places trust and the
side being trusted. For trust to be relevant, there must be a possibility
for one side to act contrary to the expectations of the other by betraying
the shared norms of cooperation, mentioned by Fukuyama. Hence, "Trust is a
device for coping with the freedom of others" (Silverstone, 1999, p. 118).
There is ample social research demonstrating that trust matters.
Interpersonal trust was found to promote win-win solutions to
prisoner-dilemma and other game-theoretic situations (Frank, 1988; Orbell &
Dawes, 1991). Political trust is related to civic engagement and
participation (Putnam, 1993, 2000). Trust was found to be a predictor of
successful psychotherapy (Johnson & Talitman, 1997). Trustworthy sources
facilitate persuasion (Hovland, Janis & Kelly, 1953). Trust facilitates
various economic activities (Lorenz, 1999). In educational research,
mistrust of the school system was found to escalate parent-school conflicts
(Lake & Billingsley, 2000). In management and organizational behavior
studies, trust was related to the effectiveness of managerial problem
solving (Zand, 1972). Even those studying medicine found that trust plays
an important role in health care settings (Davies & Rundall, 2000). Trust
has also been used to explain various phenomena in the disciplines of
anthropology, international relations (e.g., Kydd, 2000), history, and
sociobiology (see Hubbell & Medved, 2001). In sum, it would not be an
exaggeration to say that trust plays an important role in diverse aspects
of human life.
News media trust and exposure
In contrast to these social science findings regarding the essential role
of trust in diverse fields, communication scholars investigating the role
played by news media trust in shaping audience news exposure, have found
only modest, though statistically significant relationships. The bivariate
correlations between people's trust in the institutions of the news media
and the amount of mainstream news they consume were at best, and even after
correcting for attenuation, under .20. Partial correlations show that after
controlling for several factors potentially influencing both media trust
and media exposure, the correlation between the two constructs is much
lower. Although mainstream media skeptics are somewhat less exposed to
mainstream news channels on average, they still get much of their current
affairs information from media sources they mistrust. Tsfati and Cappella
conclude that "when it comes to audience relationship with news media,
seeing is not necessarily believing, and believing and trusting are only
moderately correlated with seeing."
How can people watch news that they do not trust? Trust in the news media
is based on our belief in the professionalism of journalistic practice
(Liebes, 2001, p. 295). Given the definition of trust and assuming rational
audiences, exposure to mistrusted news sources does not make much sense.
Trust is an expectation by the trustor that the trustee can be relied upon
and that the interaction with the trustee will increase the probability of
gains, rather than losses, to the trustor (Coleman, 1990). Audiences
motivated to learn about the world would benefit little, if at all, from
exposure to mistrusted sources. This was the kind of thinking which led
scholars to hypothesize that media trust should correlate with media exposure.
Factors shaping news exposure
However, this logic fails to take into account a simple but important
finding of years of research about media exposure: It is not just the
referential function of news (i.e. the need to learn accurate information
about the impersonal world), which drives news consumption. Any set of
media materials, news included, is capable of serving a multiplicity of
needs and audience functions (Katz, Blumler & Gurevitch, 1974, p.
517). The reasons for watching news are diverse (Gantz, 1978; Wenner,
1985). Schramm (1949) claimed that news consumption is guided by either
reality motives or pleasure motives (or both). The traces of this
reality/play distinction can be found in the writings of later scholars who
talked, instead, about information/entertainment (Rubin, 1984) or
content/process (Cutler & Danowski, 1980) distinctions. However, subsequent
scholars have offered numerous additional motives. Wenner (1985) offers a
map of news gratifications that contains 16 different motivations,
including ego-defense, expressive, tension reduction, stimulation, and so on.
Some people follow the news to fulfill social integrative needs (Levy,
1977). These social gratification seekers are not very interested in the
political world, but they do not want to lose touch with other people. For
others the news may fulfill "surveillance" functions (Wright, 1960). These
audience members follow the news in order to get bits of information
necessary for their daily lives and do not care much about the rest. They
watch the news to learn about tomorrow's school strike. They wait for the
weather and traffic reports or the news from the stock market and watch
other components of newscasts simply because they are there (see Gantz et
al., 1991). The theoretical mechanism of mood management (Zillmann, 1988)
might offer yet an additional explanation as to why people watch news:
bored viewers are more likely to seek stimulating contents and might find
them in news items that focus on controversy, conflict, or disaster.
Still others expose themselves to news in order to gratify their cognitive
needs. They want to better understand the political world and to
familiarize themselves with the arguments and counter-arguments surrounding
political issues. Just as others may enjoy solving riddles and puzzles,
these people derive gratification from thinking and deliberating, from
considering problems from different angles, and from trying to "solve"
problems even when they are unrelated to them personally. For these
people, the desire to think and to know (vs. the need for information for
social or practical reasons) is their motivation for news exposure.
Comparing information, learning different angles of the same stories, and
arguing with texts is a gratifying media experience for people with
Therefore, many motivations underlying news consumption are unrelated to
the quality of journalistic professionalism. If people watch news for mood
management purposes, to fulfill integrative needs, or simply because they
have nothing else to do (Rubin, 1993) and nothing else is on the air, then
it should come as no surprise that people watch news they do not trust.
Obtaining accurate and objective information about the world is just one
motivation for watching the news. When other motivations are present, trust
in the media becomes less relevant. In other words, media skeptics probably
follow mainstream news despite their skepticism in order to gratify other
needs, such as social needs or the need for cognition or entertainment.
This is a rational response in that rationality is action in the pursuit of
In sum, the motivations for news exposure are diverse. Most of us probably
follow the news for multiple reasons. Many of us may use the news to
gratify each of the needs mentioned above, at least to some extent. Yet we
also differ in the extent to which we have these motivations and the extent
to which we use the news to fulfill them. According to uses and
gratifications theory, these varying needs lead to varying exposure
patterns. This paper focuses on one of these needs--the need for
cognition--as a predictor of news exposure and as a factor moderating the
role of skepticism in exposure to news communication.
Need for cognition
Need for cognition (NC) is defined by psychologists as "a need to structure
relevant situations in meaningful, integrated ways. It is a need to
understand and make reasonable the experimental world" (Cohen et al., 1955,
p. 291). Cohen et al. argued that NC qualifies as a need because it directs
behavior toward a goal and because tension is caused "when this goal is not
attained." Later, Cacioppo and Petty (1982, p. 118) clarified that the term
"need" is used in a "statistical (i.e., likelihood or tendency) rather than
biological (i.e., tissue deprivation) sense." They defined NC as "a
tendency to engage in and enjoy thinking" (p. 116).
Other scholars (reviewed by Cacioppo & Petty, 1982) have characterized
people with NC as people who "have fun" thinking, who are motivated by a
quest for comprehension, and who feel frustrated when they are unable to
understand. Research has found that NC predicts verbal ability and
knowledge (Tidwell et al., 2000), study skills and academic achievement
(Guelgoez, 2001) and performance on various problem-solving tasks (Nair et
The need-for-cognition construct has often been applied in persuasion
research (Cacioppo et al, 1996; Kaufman & Stasson, 1999; Zhang, 1996). Most
relevant for this study, and as uses and gratifications research (Katz et
al., 1974) predicted using the framework of "cognitive needs," NC was
related with news viewing and attention to government news reports, but not
with attention to sports (Perse, 1992). Undergraduates who expressed a
liking for heavy metal music ranked lower in NC than non-fans (Hansen &
Hansen, 1991). Recently, Tuten and Bosnjak (2001, p. 391) found that NC
"was significantly and positively correlated with all Web activities
involving cognitive thought." In sum, what psychologists conceptualized and
called "need for cognition" was found to be useful in the field of
communication, particularly in gratifications research.
Need for cognition as a moderator in the association between media
skepticism and exposure
Audiences with high levels of NC might be mistakenly thought to be those
who care most about the validity of media reports and those most motivated
to learn the "truth" about news stories, compared to social-integrative or
to entertainment-motivated audiences. However, NC is not all about
information. Gratification research distinguishes between orientational
gratifications, which are "message uses for information that provide for
the reference and reassurance of self in relation to society," and
para-orientational gratifications, which are "process uses that
ritualistically reorient news content through play activity" (Wenner, 1985,
p. 175). In no sense is the goal of this para-orientational activity merely
information gain (Stephenson, 1967). Rather, the aim is to "play" with
information, to receive gratification from ritualistic exposure to
information, from trying to understand complex realities, and from thinking
about these realities.
Uses and gratifications research claims that exposure to communication is
guided by social and psychological needs, including a need for cognition.
However, human needs interact with each other and with other factors when
people select media content. The referential function of news watching
might interact with the drive to satisfy cognitive needs. Individual
attitudes and predispositions such as trust in media sources may interact
with gratifications sought when people shape their media diets. That is,
people with stronger needs might be willing to pay higher costs in order to
satisfy their needs – for example, to expose themselves to sources they do
not trust. Hence, the urge to satisfy cognitive (or other) needs could
result in decreased trust-based selective exposure to communication.
Selectivity in exposure to communication is thus guided by complex
interactions. When NC is high, trust might be less relevant for audiences,
and hence trust-based selective exposure might be weaker. In other words,
people with cognitive needs might rely less on their trust or skepticism
toward media when they select their news sources. They are willing to
expose themselves to un-trusted sources in order to satisfy their cognitive
needs. On the other hand, when NC is low, trust might be more relevant, and
thus, people with no cognitive needs might rely on their trust in the media
more heavily when selecting their news diet.
Prior research has found only a weak association between news media trust
and exposure. Given these past findings, and given theories of selective
exposure and the definition of trust, it is possible to hypothesize that
H1: Mainstream media skepticism would be associated with lower mainstream
As mentioned above, NC was found to correlate with news watching in prior
research (Perse, 1992). Given these results and the logic of gratification
research, it seems plausible to expect that those who enjoy thinking and
who like to think long and hard about problems will consume more news than
those with lower cognitive needs. Hence,
H2: Need for cognition would be positively associated with mainstream news
As explained above, trust in the media and NC do not shape news exposure
separately, but rather in conjunction with one another. When NC is high
(and the factors motivating news exposure are relatively unrelated to
trust), the role played by media skepticism is weaker; when it is low, the
role played by media skepticism as a determinant of exposure is stronger.
H3: News media skepticism would interact with the need for cognition, when
affecting mainstream media exposure. The effect of media skepticism would
be weaker for those with high levels of NC and stronger for those with low
levels of NC.
The Electronic Dialogue (ED) project is a unique web-based research
endeavor that involves a series of Internet surveys and electronic
political discussions designed to investigate, among other things, the
effects of participation in electronic deliberative forums on various
opinions and attitudes. The participants of the ED project were part of a
representative random sample of the American population whose households
were offered WebTV units in return for weekly completion of Internet
surveys. The recruitment and maintenance of this panel was executed by
Knowledge Networks, a web-based consumer research and opinion-polling
company, which operates from Menlo Park, California. A sub-sample of their
panel was invited to join the Electronic Dialogue project. Although the
overall response rate was rather small (over 50% of the households accepted
Knowledge Network's offer and joined their panel, and 50.7% of a sub-sample
of this panel who were offered to participate specifically in the ED
project have actually done so), the sampling design was reasonably
successful in representing the US population. The sample included 79.4%
whites (compared to 76.1% in the December 1999 Current Population Study
census data), 54.2% males (compared to a population parameter of 48.0%),
and 39.3% respondents with a high school education or less (compared to
47.5% in the population). Geographically, 17.4% of the sample was from
Northeast, 21.4% from the Midwest, 34.4% from the South, and 26.9% from the
West (compared to population parameters of 19.7%, 23.6%, 34.8%, and 21.9%
respectively). Twenty percent of the sample were 18-29 years old, 35.0%
were between 30-44, 27.4% between 45-59, and 17.7% were 60 or older (the
corresponding population figures are 21.4%, 31.8%, 25.0%, and 21.8%). In
sum, although this is a web-based survey, the incentive program offering
WebTV units assured that the sample was fairly representative of the
American population. These data offer us an opportunity to explore the
hypotheses regarding the moderating role of need for cognition in the
association between media skepticism and exposure.
Dependent measure: News media exposure.
ED respondents were asked to report the number days of exposure to news
media outlets in the previous week. The items were "Watch national network
news on television," "Watch cable news, such as CNN or MSNBC," "Watch local
television news ('Eyewitness' or 'Action News')," and "Read a daily
newspaper." Responses ranged between 0 to 7 days of exposure. Mainstream
media exposure was calculated as the mean of these four survey items (M =
3.71; SD=2.04; Cronbach's _ = .72).
Media skepticism. Respondents were asked a series of questions relating to
the various components of media skepticism. The items include four of
Gaziano and McGrath's (1986) News Credibility Scale items (fair, accurate,
tell the whole story, can be trusted), an item asking whether the media
care more about being the first to report a story or about being accurate
in reporting the story, and an item asking whether the media help society
or get in the way of society's solving its problems (used by Cappella &
Jamieson, 1997). Respondents were also asked about the degree to which they
trust the media "to report the news fairly" (an item used by NES since
1996), and about the amount of "confidence" they have in the people running
the institutions of the press. All items were coded so that the skeptical
answer would have the value of "1," and the most trusting category would
have the value of "0."
As in previous research (e.g., West, 1994), items tapping diverse
components of media trust loaded together very well together. In an
exploratory factor analysis conducted on the ED data, all nine items loaded
on the same factor. Cronbach's _ for these nine items was .90 (M=.56;
SD=.19). Temporal consistency of the skepticism items was examined by
correlating two independent measurements (in August and December, 2000).
The bivariate correlation between these two measurements was .63 (p
<.001). Convergent and discriminant validity were examined and established
elsewhere (XXXX, 2003).
Need for cognition. The need-for-cognition measure used in the ED study was
a shortened version of Cacioppo and Petty's (1982) NC instrument (adapted
from Thompson, 1995), consisting of nine statements: (a) I would prefer
complex to simple problems; (b) It's enough for me that something gets the
job done; I don't care how or why it works; (c) I usually end up
deliberating about issues even when they do not affect me personally; (d)
Thinking is not my idea of fun; (e) I really enjoy a task that involves
coming up with new solutions to problems; (f) Learning new ways to think
doesn't excite me very much; (g) I prefer my life to be filled with puzzles
that I must solve; (h) I only think as hard as I have to; (i) I find
satisfaction deliberating long and hard for hours. Respondents were asked
to rate how well each of these statements described themselves. Response
categories were "a lot like me" (coded "5"), "somewhat like me" (coded
"4"), "uncertain" (coded "3"), "not too much like me" (coded "2"), and "not
at all like me" (coded "1"). The variables measuring reactions to
statements b, d, f and h were reverse-coded. Reliability for the nine items
was .76. To build a scale, the nine items were averaged. The resulting
measure had a mean of 3.5, with a standard deviation of .66. The bivariate
correlation between the NC measure and media skepticism was .10 (p <.05).
Covariates. Exposure decisions are not only a function of media skepticism
and NC. Prior research tells us that exposure to the media is also a
function of other motivational, resource, and demographic variables. The
association between media skepticism, NC, and news exposure requires
controlling for these other possible variables. Motivational controls
include political interest, knowledge, and political extremity. Those more
interested in politics tend to watch more news, and the models control for
such involvement variables. Resource covariates include being employed,
being a student, and other indicators regarding audience schedules. Those
with less available time are expected to watch, read, and listen to less
news, simply because they do not have the time to spend on news consumption.
Exposure to communication is embedded in a given cultural and economic
context. We consume what we have been socialized to consume and what we can
afford to consume. Differences between sexes, races, and educational
backgrounds determine, at least to some extent, our media habits. Such
factors are controlled for in the analysis that follows to the degree
possible. Measures of all of these covariates are described in the Appendix.
To test for H1 and H2, the mainstream news exposure scores were regressed
on media skepticism, NC, and the control variables. Results are
presented in Table 1, as Model 1. The model shows that political interest
was positively and significantly associated with mainstream news exposure:
The higher the involvement, the higher the exposure. Age was negatively
associated with mainstream news exposure. Employed respondents reported
significantly less news consumption than their unemployed counterparts
perhaps because of time constraints. The rest of the covariates were not
significantly associated with the dependent variable.
H1 predicted that media skepticism would be negatively associated with
mainstream news exposure. As predicted by H1, media skepticism was
negatively associated with mainstream exposure (B = -0.80; SE = .45), even
after extensive controls. The higher the skepticism, the lower the reported
mainstream news exposure. This association was borderline significant (p =
H2 predicted that NC would be positively associated with mainstream news
consumption. There was no evidence supporting this hypothesis in the ED
data. Contrary to H2, the sign of the coefficient for the effect of NC on
news exposure was negative (B = 0.19; SE = .12), implying that those with
higher cognitive needs consumed relatively less, not more, mainstream news.
However, this association was not statistically significant (p = .13).
H3 predicted an NC by media skepticism interaction in their joint effect on
media exposure. To test for this hypothesis, an NC by media skepticism
interaction term was entered into the model. Results are presented in Table
1, as Model 1. As hypothesized by H3, NC significantly interacted with
media skepticism in their effect on mainstream news exposure (B = 2.05; SE
= .61; p < .001). The interpretation of this significant interaction is
presented in Figure 1.
As this figure shows, media skepticism had a strong and negative effect on
mainstream news exposure for those with low NC. For those with no cognitive
needs, mistrust in the mainstream media reduced exposure to the mainstream
news media. These people consumed the most mainstream news (compared to all
other groups) when they trusted the media and the least (again, compared to
all other groups) when they mistrusted the media. Thus, the effect of
media skepticism on news exposure was strongest among people with
relatively low cognitive needs. Exposure patterns for those who stated that
they do not enjoy thinking and that "they only think as hard as they have
to" were heavily influenced by their trust in or mistrust of news sources.
However, the negative effect of media skepticism on mainstream news
exposure decreased as the level of NC increased. The more people enjoyed
deliberating and solving puzzles, the less the influence of mistrust of the
media on their exposure to news as a source of social information. Still,
even for those with moderate (NC=3) NC scores, the effect of skepticism on
exposure was negative. Despite the fact that they were less influenced by
their mistrust of the media than the low-need-for-cognition respondents,
people with moderate levels of NC were still negatively affected by their
mistrust when making media choices. The more they trusted mainstream news,
the more they watched mainstream news, and vice versa for skeptics.
As Figure 1 shows, as NC becomes fairly high (NC=4) the effect of media
skepticism on media exposure disappears. At this level of NC, news exposure
is rather constant across all levels of media skepticism. However, for
those with the highest scores on the NC scale (NC=5), the effect of
skepticism on exposure was positive rather than negative. For those people,
skepticism toward the mainstream media was associated with more exposure to
the mainstream news media. The more they trusted the media, the less likely
they were to watch national television news. However, this latter finding
should be interpreted cautiously, because people with such extreme scores
on NC were rather scarce in the ED data (only 8 respondents, just over 1%
of the sample had a score of 5 on NC, and only 50 respondents, comprising
about 7% of the sample, had scores higher than 4.5 on the 1-5 NC scale).
This study examined the way in which a motivational factor – the need for
cognition – intervenes in the association between media skepticism and
media exposure. When people select media content, trust in the media
interacts with other needs influencing the amount of exposure to the
mainstream news media.
This paper began by asking why people follow the mainstream news media if
they do not trust them. One answer, suggested by the results presented
above, is that people may consume mainstream news despite their media
skepticism, just because they enjoy listening to diverse points of view,
because they like to deliberate about problems, and because they get
satisfaction from thinking per se. Those with high levels of NC are
relatively unaffected by their trust in the news media. Those with
extremely high levels of NC, in fact, consume more mainstream news as their
skepticism increases. This could be consumption for the sake of media
criticism – that is, cognitive skeptics may simply want to argue with the
media. Alternatively, the increased consumption of mainstream media
materials by cognitively motivated skeptics could reflect their lack of
functional alternatives to the mainstream media. They follow mainstream
news, despite their mistrust, simply to be exposed to the politicians
appearing in the media and to their different arguments. One additional
possibility is that for those with high levels of NC, the causal direction
of the association is reversed. Among this potentially critical group
(skeptics with high levels of NC), it could be that media exposure results
in media skepticism and not the other way around.
However, for people with low or moderate cognitive needs, the association
between skepticism and exposure is negative. Mistrusting audience members
who were low on NC had the lowest exposure to the mainstream news media:
these people tune out and do not consume the mainstream media when they do
not trust them. On the other hand, trusting but low-on-cognitive-needs
audience members had the highest exposure to the mainstream news media.
Thus, the negative effect of media skepticism on mainstream news exposure
was strongest when NC was at its lowest level. This negative effect
decreased as NC increased.
These findings demonstrate the manner in which different needs interact as
they influence exposure to the media. The utilitarian, referential function
of news consumption or the need to avoid dissonance (highlighted by the
concept of consistency with which selective exposure is often explained),
give way to the need for cognition. In a sense, the need for cognition by
media skepticism interaction could be viewed as an interaction between the
consistency-motivated selective exposure to uses and gratifications
research. Other such interactions between trust-based selective exposure
and other needs (escapism, integrative, etc.) are possible. More research
should be conducted to test for these possibilities.
Methodologically, this study highlights the importance of statistical
interaction in models predicting media exposure. It is important to note
that H2, predicting a main effect of NC on mainstream news exposure, was
not confirmed by the data when the interaction term was lacking in the
model. In other words a model with a linear main effect does not reveal the
important role played by NC in the process of determining news exposure.
Modeling for separate linear effects of different factors on news media
exposure could potentially lead to false conclusions. Media theorists have
long ago made the claim that many factors operate in conjunction to shape
audience exposure selections. Complex specifications through the use of
statistical interactions are probably the best method to conceptualize this
theoretical claim in our statistical models.
Though demonstrating this point clearly, the models presented above are
probably not sufficiently complex. NC and news media trust probably
interact with other needs (e.g., entertainment), which were not measured in
the ED project, in influencing news exposure. The fact that these
interactions are not modeled in the present research is probably the
study's most important limitation.
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Table 1: Ordinary Least Squares models predicting mainstream news exposure
Need for cognition
Media skepticism * Need for cognition interaction
Notes: Table entries are unstandardized regression coefficients. Standard
errors are presented in parentheses. Centering was used to reduce
multicollinearity. Coefficients for the uncentered terms are presented. # p
< .10; * p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p <.001
Figure 1: The association between media skepticism and mainstream news
exposure, by need for cognition
Appendix: Measures used as covariates
Political party-ideology index. Participants were asked about their party
identification and its strength. They were also asked about their overall
ideological leanings, on a continuum from strong liberal to strong
conservative. The two components, which were highly correlated, were
combined to form an 11-point scale with "strong liberals-strong Democrats"
coded as "+5," "strong conservatives-strong Republicans" coded as "-5," and
"moderates-independents" coded as "0" (M = -0.26; SD = 3.18).
Political extremity. Political extremity was simply the absolute value of
the party-ideology index. Moderates were coded "0" and extremists, both
liberal and conservative, were coded "5," with varying values in between.
This variable had an average of 2.74, with a standard deviation of 1.64.
Political knowledge. Various dimensions of political knowledge were
combined to form a single scale measure. Items included ten general
political and civics knowledge questions (e.g. who has the final
responsibility to decide if a law is constitutional or not), seven
questions about the personal backgrounds of the presidential candidates
(e.g. which one of the Democratic candidates was a professional basketball
player, which one of the GOP candidates was a former POW), and an
additional seven questions about the issue positions of candidates in the
Democratic and Republican presidential primaries (e.g. which of the
Democratic candidates supported universal health care, which of the
Republican candidates supported vouchers). All 24 items were scored "1"
for correct answers and "0" for incorrect. The items were averaged to
create a scale (Cronbach's _ = .82; M = .62; SD =.19).
Political involvement. Three items – attention to campaign news on
television, attention to newspaper stories about the campaign, and "close
following" of the campaign – were averaged to form a scale measure of
involvement (Range: 1-4; Cronbach's _ = .76 ; M = 2.70; SD = 1.10).
Schedule flexibility. The number of timeslots selected by respondents
regarding their availability for discussions was canvassed and served as a
measure of schedule flexibility. Busy participants who were available for
fewer timeslots had lower values, while flexible participants, who said
they could participate in relatively many timeslots, had higher
values. The flexibility scale ranged from 0 to 12 (M = 2.15; SD = 1.92).
 In the findings reported here, Wave 6 exposure measures were regressed
on Wave 4 measures of skepticism and need for cognition measures. Thus,
prior media skepticism and NC are used to predict subsequent exposure.
Additional combinations of time lags, as well as a fully cross-sectional
model provided identical patterns of main effects and interactions to those
reported in this paper (see XXXX, 2001).
 Centering was used to reduce the mulicollinearity between the
interaction term and the main effects. The tolerances for the centered
terms were .87 for media skepticism and need for cognition, and .94 for the
interaction term, providing no indication of a problem. However, to
facilitate interpretation the coefficients for the uncentered terms are
presented in Table 1. The centered and uncentered models provided identical
patterns of results.