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The Effect of Online Deliberation
On Opinion Quality and Political Tolerance
A student paper submitted by
Doctoral Student, The School of Journalism
University of Missouri-Columbia
Correspondence: 47 Broadway Village Dr. # H
Columbia, MO 65201
Tel: 573) 474-4705
Email: [log in to unmask]
Seung Min Shin
Doctoral Student, The School of Journalism and Mass Communication
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Doctoral Student, The School of Journalism and Mass Communication
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Submitted to the Comm. Theory and Methodology Division to be considered for
presentation at the AEJMC Convention, Aug. 4-7, 2004, in Toronto, Canada
The Effect of Online Deliberation on Opinion Quality and Political Tolerance
The Internet use becomes popular in South Korea and political use of the
Internet is extending to the discussion on EBB's. Through the communication
on EBB's, citizens are getting more and more engaged in political
activities in Korea. The present study tried to investigate the democratic
potential of EBB's. Data were drawn from a survey of Korean adults
conducted in two city districts during the summer 2003. The results show
that EBB's use is positively related to argument repertoire and political
In spite of the pessimistic expectation of reinforcement theories that the
Internet will widen the discrepancy and aggravate the inequality among
people (Norris, 2002), the Internet use becomes more and more popular in
contemporary society. Particularly, South Korea with the population of 46
millions packed into an area smaller than Virginia, has quickly become the
world's most wired nation. Some 11 million households, or 70% of the total,
have broadband Internet accounts, and at peak times just about all of those
homes are online. According to 2003 survey of Korea Network Information
Center (KRNIC), 64.1 % of all Koreans aged 6 and older use the Internet at
least once a month. Specifically, Internet use among the aged 20-29 is the
highest with 94.3% followed by the aged 6-19 with 91.3% and the aged 30-39
Ubiquitous, fast and cheap access to the Internet changes the pattern of
media use for political information. According to a survey on Internet user
(www.saemin.co.kr, 2002), 75% of Internet users were reported to said that
they think of "news information" as an important service provided by the
Internet. In addition, 37.2% of Internet user read mainly 'online
newspapers,' while 32.1% read mainly 'offline newspapers' and 24.3% read
both. Thus, it is not a surprise that a leading Internet-based news medium
in Korea (ohmynews.co.kr) recorded 2.5 million page views and 820,000
visits a day, and was ranked as the 8th influential news medium in 2003.
Political use of the Internet is not limited to information gathering and
sharing but extending to the discussion on EBB's (Electronic Bulletin
Boards) systems that are included in almost every website in Korea. In
accordance with an early intuition that EBB's systems as democratizing
technologies are being used to exchange ideas, to mobilize the public, and
to strengthen social capital (Reingold, 1993), citizens are getting more
and more engaged in diverse political activities through the communication
on EBB's in Korea.
The case of a U.S. military vehicle accident in 2002 shows dramatically
what people can do on the Internet in Korea. In June 2002, two teenagers
were killed by a military vehicle. After the U.S. martial court acquitted
the U.S. soldiers who were driving the vehicle five month later, the case
has evolved into hot issue by the coverage of an Internet-based news
medium. Moreover, a citizen's suggestion of candlelight vigil listed on an
EBB's came to receive massive and positive responses and, consequently,
average 10,000 people had participated in the event every Saturday for 3
months, requesting the revision of SOFA and the apology of the U.S. Army in
Apparently, the context of politics or politics itself is changing with
people's active use of EBB's at least in Korea. Citizens appear to be
politically more sophisticated and involved in public affairs than ever
before. Then, what could be a theoretical framework or perspective to
understand that political activism on EBB's? The present study, employing
the concept of deliberation, tried to investigate the potential of EBB's.
Specifically, the effects of exposure to conflicting viewpoints on the
awareness of reasons for arguments and political tolerance were examined in
the context of the communication on EBB's. Data were drawn from a survey of
Korean adults (N=211) conducted in two city districts during the summer 2003.
Online Discussion and Deliberation
The Internet, as a communication medium, is rather new and has a relatively
short history. However, the idea that it bears potentials to contribute to
the improvement of modern democracy is hardly new. Since its popularization
in 1990's, the Internet has been paid considerable attention to for its
technological traits facilitating high-speed circulation of large-amount
information and unrestricted public communication among citizens, which has
been assumed to complement the weakness of contemporary representative
democracy (Budge, 1996; Grossman, 1995; McLean, 1989; Negroponte, 1995;
Reingold; 1993; Schwartz, 1996).
One of those perspectives concerning the socio-political implication of the
Internet is closely associated with deliberation or deliberative democracy
(Cappella et al., 2002; Park, 2000; Price et al., 2002). Deliberation
refers to a conflict resolution process in which diverse competing ideas
are presented, competing and compromised to reach a reasonable public
judgment based on the recognition of communalities (Barber, 1984; Bohman;
1996; Dryzek, 1990; Fishkin, 1995; Miller, 1993). Considering that
deliberation, as a normative concept, needs prerequisites of equal
opportunities of participation, freedom of speeches and rational
argumentation, it can be said that at the core of the concept lies an
idealized public communication (Habermas, 1962/1989). Thus, deliberative
democracy has found a resonant echo in the filed of political
communication. Particularly, the Internet is conceived of as a hopeful
communication medium or public sphere that not only satisfies the
prerequisites for deliberation but also enables massive political
participation in the era of low-involvement and disengagement.
Specifically, scholars have concentrated their attention on the aspects of
diversity related with features of the Internet – anonymity, absence of
social cues (e.g., Price et al., 2002; Cappella et al., 2002; Witschge, 2002).
However, pessimistic views on the democratic possibility of the Internet
are still pervasive in the field. Scholars criticize that the Internet as
an ideal public forum is no more than an illusionary optimism. According to
them, people tend to avoid being engaged in online discussion with
dissimilar viewpoints, and, consequently, online communities become more
and more homogeneous (Schudson, 1997; Warren, 1996). It is true that the
Internet provides an optimal environment for deliberation, which has
promoted the optimistic expectations. However, the environment doesn't
guarantee online deliberation automatically. Actually, people have good
reasons to refuse to expose themselves to dissimilar viewpoints. There has
been said to be a psychological mechanism that makes people hesitate to
speak out their own opinion (Noelle-Neumann, 1989) and actively listen to
other's ones (Berelson; 1954; Lazarsfeld et al., 1948).
Even on the Internet where dissenters are more often than not being ignored
and further becoming a target of 'vigorous attack and humiliation,' the
public expression of own opinion and non-selective exposure to conflicting
viewpoints, the attempt to practice deliberation can turn out to be
uncomfortable and soaring (Witschge, 2002). In turn, the frustration people
experience on the Internet might cause not only the reduction in diversity
of expressed viewpoints but also the unwillingness of exposure even to
those limited viewpoints. Thus, in spite the fact that some studies showed
the benefits of deliberation coming from the exchange of conflicting
viewpoints in experimental situation (Cappella et al., 2002; Price et al.,
2002), it is quite open a question whether the indiscriminating exposure is
predominant or exceptional on the Internet.
This study, first of all, tries to answer the question by describing the
actual practice of deliberation on the Internet. While both optimistic and
pessimistic perspectives have also drawn their verdicts from empirical
research on the Internet, we think the question about online deliberation
is still more empirical rather than theoretical, and that the question
could not be answered in the manner of dichotomous diagnosis. For the
purpose, this study applies one, but essential criterion of deliberation –
exposure to conflicting viewpoints – to the use of EBB's to examine the
extent to which people discuss on the Internet in a deliberative form.
The Effect of Public Deliberation
While a number of theoretical works on deliberation have been documented
until now, what we still lacking in is empirical research that examines the
hypothetical statements derived from theoretical insights. Moreover, the
Internet has been empirically less explored in terms of the possibility of
deliberation despite the vigorous online discussion. Thus, the next and
main task of this study is to specify and examine the effect of online
deliberation on EBB's.
In his review on modern philosophy and public deliberation, Park (2000)
specifies two dimensions of humanity – individuality and civility – that
could be developed by public deliberation, which supports and enriches
modern democracy. Individuality means a characteristic of human being who
is capable of speculating on the world, free from any irrational beliefs,
authority, and conventions, and civility is a communitarian consciousness
that gives priority to cooperation over competition, and to solidarity over
individual rationality. Highly philosophical and intuitive as it is, Park's
insight into "two interrelated but separate and independent dimensions"
seems to provide a theoretical background for more explicated empirical
The modern age accelerated the transformation of the man into the
individual by dismantling the traditional regime of collectivity (Giddens,
1987). Emancipated from premodern shackles of collectivity, human beings
were transformed from a part of the whole into individuals for the first
time in history. From that time, human being started replacing "the
we-horizon with the I-perspective" (Park, 2000, p.4), which prescribes one
characteristic of modernity. Although the individuality is concerned with
the autonomy and independence of individual based on his idiosyncratic
desires and values, however, its development is not solely relying on
isolated speculation upon self-existence. Rather, individuality matures as
much as it accommodates criticism from others' viewpoints. Mill (1975)
pointed out exactly the interrelation of individuality and openness to
others' opinion when he said, "in the case of a person whose judgment is
really deserving of confidence, how has it become so? … … Because it has
been his practice to listen to all that could be said against him" (p. 108).
Exposure to Conflicting Viewpoints and Awareness of Reasons for Arguments
The philosophical insight on the cultivation of individuality corresponds
to recent theoretical works on public deliberation that capture the
'rational public' or 'opinion quality' as a key aspect of its effect
(Dryzek, 1990; Fishkin, 1995; Gutmann & Thompson, 1996). Similarly, a
number of scholars surmise that people are more likely to have highly
sophisticated opinions if they have taken time to discuss and reflect upon
public issues (Barber, 1984; Fishkin, 1995; McMillan & Harriger, 2002).
Actually, considerable research on the effect of deliberation on opinion
quality has been conducted. Kim et al. (1999) found that opinion
consistency, argument quality, consideredness and opinionation were
improved by political talks. Gastil and Dillard (1999) also empirically
supported the idea that deliberative discussions foster the participants'
political sophistication and the certainty of their opinion by forcing
participants to defend their views in the face of oppositions. More
directly, in an experimental study on online dialogue, Price and his
colleagues (2002) found that exposure to disagreement enriched the
participant's reasons for their arguments, that is, argument repertoire.
Facing competing points of view and criticisms which forces more careful
consideration of their own opinion, participants became more knowledgeable
of the rationales underpinning their arguments.
Given the past research, we contend that exposure to conflicting viewpoints
fosters a political sophistication in political judgment because it informs
the population about current issues and promotes reasoning skills by
forcing citizens to defend their views in face of opposition. This leads us
to hypothesize that exposure to conflicting viewpoints will have a positive
relationship with the awareness of reasons for own views.
H1: Exposure to conflicting viewpoints will be positively related to the
awareness of reasons for own views.
Among the reasons presented by the advocates of representative democracy is
the assumption of the selfish individual who acts based on their economic
interests and is more inclined to compete rather than cooperate with each
other (Schumpeter, 1942). However, through deliberative discussions,
selfish individuals turn into responsible citizens who recognize public
interests and communitarian goals. Interacting with other participant with
conflicting viewpoints, individuals come to accommodate criticisms from
other sides, to modify their own arguments for tolerable solution to all,
and to understand the commonality underlying seemingly incompatible
interests as well as sophisticate their own views. An incipient stage of
this process initiated by deliberation might be the awareness of others'
arguments. Thus, it is not a surprise that most some studies on
deliberation are suggesting the understanding of others' interests or
viewpoints as its effect implicitly (Gastil & Dillard, 1999; Kim et al.,
Meanwhile, Price and his colleagues (2002) clearly considered whether
deliberation promoted the participant's awareness of reasons for others'
arguments or not, and found that there was a positive relationship between
exposure to disagreement and argument repertoire for others' viewpoints.
Mutz (2002) also examined the positive impact of exposure to conflicting
viewpoints on individuals' awareness of legitimate rationales for
oppositional viewpoints, and the result supported the hypothesis. Thus,
this study hypothesizes that exposure to conflicting viewpoints will have a
positive relationship with the awareness of reasons for oppositional views:
H2: Exposure to conflicting viewpoints will be positively related to
awareness of reasons for oppositional views
Awareness of Reasons for Arguments and Political Tolerance
While current empirical research of deliberation mainly focused on the
relationship between deliberation and opinion quality, some scholars
indicate that deliberation is also important process of democratic civic
education (McMillan & Harriger, 2002; Mathews, 1999; Gastil, 1993; Rawls,
1993). As Christiano (1997) argued, deliberation facilitates a kind of
mutual respect among citizens as well as the understanding of viewpoints.
That is, the understanding to other's views, a cognitive element of
civility, can cultivate attitudinal components of empathy, tolerance, trust
in others, and reciprocity (Park, 2000).
In this vein, Mutz (2002) examined the impact of individuals' awareness of
rationales for their own and oppositional viewpoints on levels of political
tolerance. It is supposed that the higher tolerance tends to be found among
individuals who are cognitively sophisticated through exposure to diverse
political views from interpersonal discussion. She explains two mechanisms
by which exposure to oppositional political viewpoints might lead to
political tolerance. First, interactions involving exposure to conflicting
views may encourage a deeper understanding of opposing views (increase
perspective-taking ability: cognitive mechanism). Second potential
mechanism is that it may produce greater awareness of rationales for
opposing views (lead to more intimacy of opposing views: affective
mechanism). To summarize, Mutz assumed that exposure to conflicting views
benefit democracy largely (1) by encouraging a deeper understanding of
opposing views, (2) by reducing prejudice against opposing views, and (3)
by contributing to greater tolerance (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Positive Mechanisms for the Effects of Exposure to Conflicting
Viewpoints on Political Tolerance (Mutz, 2002)
[--- WMF Graphic Goes Here ---]
[--- WMF Graphic Goes Here ---]
Exposure to Conflicting
Awareness of Reasons for Oppositional Views
Following a comprehensive model suggested in the research of Mutz, this
study proposes that higher tolerance will be positively correlated with
awareness of reasons for own views and oppositional views:
H3: Awareness of reasons for own views will be positively related to
H4: Awareness of reasons for oppositional views will be positively related
to political tolerance
The data for the present study were collected from a Web-based survey
conducted in June and July 2003. Respondents were recruited from residents
in a district of Seoul and a midsize southern city, Changwon in Korea. They
were selected using a random-digit dialing. Students at the department of
communication in Seoul National University and Changwon National University
contacted randomly selected households and asked randomly selected adults
within each household to provide their email address if they agreed to
participate in the Web-based survey. As almost every adult has at least an
email account, anyone could participate only when they wanted to.
After recruiting completed, the prospective participants were recontacted
by e-mail and given the Website address for the online survey. Respondents
who provided an invalid e-mail were recontacted by telephone, and every
effort was made to obtain a legitimate e-mail. Overall, 38 percent of adult
respondents who agreed to take part in ultimately took the survey, for an N
Control variables Before conducting regression path analysis for this
study, several variables, which were assumed to be related with the
variables of the interest, were controlled out. First, demographic
variables - respondent's gender (dummy variable with female coded 1), age,
level of education, and income - were included as exogenous controls in our
model. Basic individual political orientation variables (ideology, issue
involvement) were also controlled to rule out their potential impact on the
relationship among the variables of the interest. Finally, TV news use,
Newspaper use, and offline political discussion were included to be
Variables for path analysis Two Likert items were used to measure exposure
to conflicting viewpoints. Respondents were asked how often they read 1)
others' opinion and 2) dissonant opinion about "US Armored Car Accident".
An additive scale was created based on these two items (? = .82, M = 3.8,
SD = 1.75). Argument repertoire was measured by reasons for their own
opinion and reasons for oppositional opinion. Respondents were asked which
opinion was similar to their own opinion about "US Armored Car Accident",
on a 5-point scale. Following this question, we asked them to fill out two
open-ended questions about why they hold that opinion and why others have
oppositional opinion (See the Appendix 1 for the exact wording of
questions). If the respondent skipped the question, his or her answer was
coded as zero, following previous research (Cappella et al, 2002; Price et
al., 2002). When the answer was irrelevant or merely restated the opinion,
it was also treated as zero. For each substantive answer, one point was
given for every reason respondents wrote. With two different sets of items,
tolerance toward different views was constructed corresponding respondents'
opinion about the issue. Given a left extreme opinion (U.S. Armed forces
stationed in Korea must be withdrawn right away) and a right extreme
opinion (U.S. Armed forces stationed in Korea must not be withdrawn at all,
rather reinforced), respondents were asked respectively how they felt about
a set of statements regarding social restriction on each extreme opinion:
1) those who have this opinion should not be allowed to preach in public
school, 2) An assembly or protest for this opinion should be restricted, 3)
those who have this opinion should not be allowed to hold a public office.
Tolerance toward left extreme opinion (a = .76, M = 4.7, SD = 1.67) was
used for individuals who oppose withdrawal of U.S. Army, while tolerance
toward right extreme opinion (a= .76, M = 4.1, SD = 1.61) for those who
support withdrawal of U.S. army. In addition, mean values of tolerance
toward both right and left extreme opinion was used for neutral opinion
holders. Since three different variables were merged and created for a
tolerance toward different variable, standardized z scores of each variable
were applied to final analyses.
To explore the relationship between exposure to conflicting views, reasons
for own views, reasons for oppositional views, and tolerance, this study
employed regression path analyses (N=211) to test the hypotheses.
Demographics (age, sex, education, and income), political orientation
variables (political ideology and issue involvement), media use variables
(TV news use and Newspaper news use), and offline political discussion were
entered as controls in a series of regression equations for ruling out
their possible influences on the variables of interest.
Table 1 in Appendix 2 shows overall results from a series of regression
analyses. Because the analyses involve several dependent variables in a
chain of relationships, the findings on the relationships of the central
theoretical variables are summarized in the regression path analysis shown
in Figure 2 to simplify interpretation of the key findings. In this figure,
all variables to the left of a given item are included in an equation
predicting the item. Arrows represent significant relationships.
Figure 2. Exposure to conflicting views, Argument Repertoire, and Tolerance
1. p < .01, p < .001
2. Demographic variables, ideology, issue involvement, Media uses, offline
discussion, and BBS reading were controlled
3. Numerical values are standardized regression coefficients
H1 predicted that exposure to conflicting viewpoints would be positively
related to awareness of reasons for own views. The data provide some
support for this hypothesis; even after removing the effects of numerous
control variables, exposure to conflicting viewpoints and awareness of
reasons for own views are positively related (ß = .156, p<.05).
H2 predicted that individuals who read opposite opinions on online bulletin
board would be more likely to know well the reasons of them. The findings
supported this hypothesis. Exposure to conflicting views are positively
related to awareness of reasons for own views (ß = .272, p<.001).
H3 predicted that awareness of reasons for own views could enhance
tolerance toward conflicting views. However, the results showed the
opposite relationship between two variables. The number of reasons for own
views was found to be negatively related to tolerance toward different
views (ß = -.321, p<.01). Thus, H3 was rejected.
Finally, H4 proposed that awareness of reasons for conflicting views would
be positively associated with tolerance toward different views. The data
provided some support for this hypothesis (ß = .329, p<.01).
The main idea of this study was to assess the democratic possibility of the
Internet more comprehensively with the theoretical framework of
deliberation. For the purpose, a model comprised with four relevant
variables and four hypotheses outlined two tentative relationships between
individuality and civility at two different levels of cognition and
attitude. Specifically, the model predicted that online deliberation could
cultivate cognitive aspect of individuality and civility simultaneously
and, in turn, the cognitive aspect of two dimensions would develop an
attitudinal civility. Operationalizing each variable as exposure to
conflicting viewpoints on EBB's, the awareness of reasons for my own and
others' views, and political tolerance, the present study examined four
hypotheses and two paths in the model.
First, hypothesis 2 and 4 can be associated to see whether a cognitive
aspect of civility cultivated by deliberation extends to an attitudinal
civility or not (Christiano, 1997; Mutz, 2002; Park, 2000). The result
indicates a strong relationship between the awareness of reasons for
others' views and political tolerance. Actually, there has been a general
assumption or intuition that deliberation cultivates mutual understanding
and, in turn, contributes to mutual respect (Barber, 1984; Dryzek, 1990;
Fishkin, 1995; Gutmann & Thompson, 1996). This assumption was empirically
supported in this study.
Second, hypothesis 1 and 3 can be combined to examine the possibility of
cross-dimension extension from cognitive individuality to a attitudinal
civility. The result, however, indicates that there is dissociation to the
opposite directions between two dimensions, and, in other words, that the
development of individuality can cause the reduction in political
tolerance. Thus, it can be said that it would be quite naïve to expect only
good influence of exposure to conflicting viewpoints: it could also be
harmful if its contribution is limited to the enrichment of own arguments.
In other words, we may assume another path from exposure to conflicting
viewpoints to political tolerance. To say, interactions involving exposure
to conflicting views have been assumed to have negative effect on tolerance
(1) by strengthening one's own views, (2) by intensifying hostility against
Another interesting point to be addressed here is that offline discussion
is negatively related to political tolerance although political
conversations have been thought to enrich democracy by enhancing citizens'
civic-mindedness (Bennet et al 2000). McLeod et al.'s (1999) finding that
network heterogeneity predicts an aspect of civility, the civic
participation, seems helpful to explain the result. Compared with online
deliberation, offline discussion can be narrowly networked because of the
physical limitation of everyday life. As a result, the offline discussion
with communicative homogeneity might have negative impact on political
tolerance. If our study had measured the characteristics of offline
discussion in terms of exposure to conflicting viewpoints, we might have
more comprehensive result.
APPENDIX 1: MEASURES FOR THE VARIABLES USED
What is your Sex? 0. male 1. female
What is your Age? [ ]
Please estimate the combined income for all household from all sources. Is
your household income a month?
1. Less than 1,000,000
2. Between 1,000,000 and 2,000,000
3. Between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000
4. Between 3,000,000 and 4,000,000
5. Between 4,000,000 and 5,000,000
6. Between 6,000,000 and 7,000,000
7. More than 7,000,000
What is the highest level of school you have complete?
1. Middle school graduation 2. High school graduation
3. Technical college (two years) graduation 4. Being in college
5. College graduation 6. Graduate degree
I1. Now thinking in terms of political orientation, would you say you are:
Very conservative 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Very liberal
I2. In your opinion, which one is needed more desperately for our society?
Social stability 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Social reform
How much did you pay attention to revision of the Status of Forces
Agreement (SOFA) and the withdrawal of U.S. Armed forces, which were
spurred by "U.S. Armored Car Accident"?
Not at all 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Very much
In your opinion, how important are revision of the Status of Forces
Agreement (SOFA) and the withdrawal of U.S. Armed forces?
Not at all 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Very much
TV news use
How much have you consulted TV news program for news or information about
"U.S. Armored Car Accident"?
Not at all 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Very much
How much have you consulted newspaper for news or information about "U.S.
Armored Car Accident"? (except for web based newspaper and sports newspaper)
Not at all 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Very much
Exposure to conflicting views through online discussion
Now I'd like you to stop and think of your using the Internet discussion
boards (e.g., off-line media web discussion boards, Internet discussion
sites, community discussion boards, and so on) about politics or current
issues, particularly the "U.S. Armored Car Accident".
D1. How often did you read others' opinion about "U.S. Armored Car
Accident" on the Internet discussion boards?
D2. How often did you read dissonant opinion about "U.S. Armored Car
Accident" on the Internet discussion boards?
Reasons for Own Views
R1. Regarding revision of the Status of Forces Agreement and the withdrawal
of the U.S. troops stationed in Korea, if you persuade those who do not
agree with you, what reasons you present to them? (Please list all the
reasons that come to mind)
Reasons for Oppositional Views
R2. If someone who has oppositional views with you would persuade you, what
reasons do you think that person might present to you? (Please list all the
reasons that come to mind)
Here is a list of statements that people have made regarding social
restriction on the opinion, "U.S. Armed forces stationed in Korea must be
withdrawn right away." Please indicate the extent of your agreement or
disagreement with each of these statements.
T1a. Those who have this opinion should not be allowed to preach in public
T1b. An assembly or protest for this opinion should be restricted.
T1c. Those who have this opinion should not be allowed to hold a public office.
Table 1 OLS Regression Path Analysis – Controls, EBB's Use, Argument
Repertoire, and Political Tolerance (N = 211)
Read opposite opinions
Reasons for my opinion
Reasons for opposite opinion
Tolerance toward different opinion
Read opposite opinions
Reasons for my view
Reasons for others' views
Total R2 (%)
Notes: Coefficients are standardized Betas (ß).
*p < .05, **p < .01, ***p < . 001
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