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Subject: AEJ 96 OgnianoE CTM Political adwatches and the third-person effect
From: Elliott Parker <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:AEJMC Conference Papers <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Mon, 23 Dec 1996 05:50:09 EST
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            Political Adwatches and the Third-person Effect
            by
            Ekaterina Ognianova
            Robert Meeds
            Esther Thorson
            James Coyle
            University of Missouri-Columbia
 
            Running head: Political Adwatches and the Third-person Effect
            Correspondence to:
            Esther Thorson
            116 Walter Williams Hall
            Graduate Studies Center
            School of Journalism
            University of Missouri-Columbia
            P.O. Box 838
            Columbia, MO 65205
            tel.: (314) 882-9590
            fax: (314) 884-5302
            Internet: [log in to unmask]
 
            Paper submitted to the 1996 convention of
            the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
            Communication Theory and Methodology Division
            April 1, 1996
 
                        Political Adwatches and the Third-person Effect
            Abstract
 
                This study reports the findings of an experiment that tested five
hypotheses about the new media genre of adwatches and the common perception that
the media persuade others more than oneself, termed the third-person effect in
communication.  The study found that the third-person effect was greater for
negative political ads than for adwatches, which was explained with differences
in the perceived social desirability of the two messages.  Further analyses
found that the third-person effect was negatively associated with subjects'
attitudes toward the ads and the adwatches, and its magnitude was dependent on
whether subjects saw ads and adwatches alone or in conjunction.  Finally, the
study found that the third-person effect was associated with people's feelings
about their state, a relatively unexplored variable termed public mood, and with
their level of political cynicism.
                        Political Adwatches and the Third-person Effect
 
            Political Adwatches and the Third-person Effect
                                "Perhaps political advertising should be banned, or ads required
to pass                 bipartisan committees evaluating their truthfulness." (Tannen, 1992,
p. X1)
            Introduction
                Differences in perceiving the self and others are central to the
study of information processing and persuasion in communication research.  Such
differences are clearly demonstrated in the common tendency to think that media
affect others more than oneself, a persuasion phenomenon called the third-person
effect.
                Since the 1980's, when the term was introduced (Davison, 1983), a
number of communication and public opinion scholars, as well as social
psychologists, have explored the third-person effect and the conditions under
which it is exhibited.  It is now clear that people do not consistently exhibit
the effect across messages and sources.  Instead, the effect is usually
associated with messages that are perceived as socially undesirable and sources
that are seen as untrustworthy.
                This study tests the third-person effect in association with a
relatively new persuasion phenomenon, the so-called political adwatch (or truth
watch).  An adwatch is " a media news critique of [election] candidate ads
designed to inform the public about claims that are either exaggerated or false"
(Pfau & Louden, 1994, p. 326).  The third-person effect is implied in the genre
of adwatch itself.  The expectation that political ads have a significant effect
on the audience is embedded in the adwatches' mission to protect the allegedly
vulnerable viewer from misleading persuasive messages.  To our knowledge, the
present study is the first to examine the association between adwatches and the
third-person effect.
            Phenomena Related to the Third-person Effect
                The third-person effect is not a single phenomenon but appears to
belong to a family of other social cognition or public opinion effects.  For
example, the false uniqueness effect is the tendency of people to believe that
they have unique abilities that distinguish them from the average person (Marks,
1984; Snyder & Fromkin, 1980; Tesser, 1988; Tesser & Paulhus, 1983).  A similar
effect may be exhibited when it comes to attitudes.  The effect of mistakenly
perceiving others' opinions as very different from one's own when in reality
they are not is called pluralistic ignorance (Allport, 1924).  A number of
studies have shown a particular type of pluralistic ignorance--the tendency to
overestimate others' support for segregation (Breed & Ktsanes, 1961; Katz &
Allport, 1931; O'Gorman, 1975; O'Gorman & Garry, 1976; Taylor, 1982; Saenger &
Gilbert, 1950).
                On the other hand, people may mistakenly believe that others think
the same as they do.  This effect of perceiving the opinion of the majority as a
reflection of one's own opinion has been called "looking glass perception" by
Fields and Schuman (1976) or "false consensus" by Ross, Green, and House (1977)
or "projection" by Holmes (1968).  The false consensus effect and the
third-person effect do not necessarily contradict each other.  In fact, it has
been suggested that they occur under different conditions (Innes & Zeitz, 1988).
                 The third-person effect can also be related to a hypothesis
variously labeled "impersonal impact," "unrealistic optimism, " "personal
optimism," "biased optimism," and "societal optimism," i.e., people's tendency
to believe that only good things happen to themselves, while bad things happen
only to others.  This belief of one's own invulnerability to negative outcomes
is similar to the tendency to rate oneself as not susceptible to undesirable
media influence while seeing others as vulnerable (Glynn & Ostman, 1988).
                In addition, research on social identity and self-categorization
has shown that people classify members of an out-group (to which they don't
belong) as different from themselves and the members of their in-group.
Out-group members are perceived to be less complex, less variable, and less
individualistic than in-group members (Perdue, Dovidio, Gurtman, & Tyler, 1990;
Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherell, 1987).
                Finally, the third-person effect may be related to the spiral of
silence effect in public opinion (Davison, 1983; Mutz, 1989; Noelle-Neumann,
1973, 1974, 1977, 1980, 1984, 1985, 1991, 1993).  As the spiral of silence
hypothesis states, when people form an opinion about a controversial subject,
they observe what the dominant opinion on the issue is and whether they would be
in the majority or in a minority.  The media are credited with an important role
in this process, serving as an indicator of what the opinion of the majority is.
            Possible Explanations of the Third-person Effect
                The third-person effect may be explained by both cognitive and
motivational theories.  In general, it is assumed that both cognitive and
motivational factors affect people's self-other perception (Duck & Mullin,
1995).
                 A typical cognitive explanation is that people have schemas of
others or expectations of themselves that may cause erroneous perceptions of
others' abilities and attitudes.  Thus the processing of schema-discrepant and
schema-consistent information could cause a third-person effect (Perloff, 1989).
In addition, people are unlikely to have easily accessible knowledge about the
actual effects of media on themselves, but they are able to observe such effects
on others, similarly to the actor-observer effect (Perloff, 1993a).  On the
other hand, people have more information about their own feelings and
perceptions than about others', which often leads to making the fundamental
attribution error of attributing situational causes for one's own behavior but
dispositional causes for others' behavior (Fiske & Taylor, 1992).
                Furthermore, research on self-conceptions and information has
revealed the egocentric character of knowledge.  Studies of retrieval of
information about self and others have found the self-schema to be the most
central and the strongest schema, relative to other knowledge structures in
human memory.  People often use their self-schemas as criteria to evaluate
others, whether individuals or groups (Markus, 1977; Markus & Sentis, 1982;
Markus, Smith, & Moreland  1985).  It has been demonstrated that people prefer
to acquire information that reinforces their self-conceptions, so they actively
seek self-confirmatory information (Swann, 1985).
                In contrast, a pure motivational explanation is that people have a
need to preserve a positive self-conception.  They think and behave in ways that
would either maximize their self-evaluation or would minimize any loss in
self-evaluation.  Self-enhancement and self-evaluation maintenance theories may
explain the errors in social perception with people's need to maintain a
positive self-evaluation, also called beneffectance (Greenwald, 1980).  Because
self-evaluation and maintenance drive many of people's behavioral systems
(Tesser & Cornell, 1991), they are likely to drive social perception as well.
                It is possible that people's inventory of self-defense mechanisms
or what Tesser (Tesser, Martin, & Cornell, in press) calls a "zoo" of
self-defense mechanisms, also includes the third-person effect.  Indeed, Duck
(Duck, Hogg, & Terry, 1995, p. 195; Duck & Mullin, 1995), among others, suggests
that the third-person effect is due to motivational needs, such as "self-esteem,
social identity, and differentiation from others."  The perception of oneself as
less susceptible to media influence than others might be used unconsciously by
people for the maintenance of their self-evaluation.
                More realistic, however, are explanations with both cognitive and
motivational components.  Atwood (1994) has linked cognitive adaptation theory
to the third-person effect and its reverse, the first person effect of believing
one is more affected by the media than others.  Atwood's study suggests these
effects are the result of an illusion people create in order to have images of
themselves and others consistent with their beliefs about the impact of media.
This explanation obviously contains a motivational factor of maintaining a
cognitive balance, but also includes cognitive components.
                The motivational and cognitive explanations of the third-person
effect find support in the evidence that social desirability or acceptability of
messages significantly affect the magnitude and the direction of the
third-person effect.  Gunther and Thorson (1992) first explored the possibility
that social desirability or acceptability would be an important predictor of the
third-person effect.  They found that the third-person effect was significantly
smaller for public service announcements than for product ads.  Before them,
Innes and Zeitz (1988) had found differential third-person effects for different
media issues, with the strongest effect for violence on television, and smaller
but still existent effects for political campaigns and drunk driving issues.
The role of the messages' social acceptability was further confirmed in an
experiment by Gunther and Mundy (1993, p. 61), which supported their hypothesis
that media messages perceived as "not smart to be influenced by" would produce a
greater third-person effect.  Similarly, Thorson and Coyle (1994) found that the
third-person effect was strongest for product commercials but significantly
smaller for public service announcements and greening ads.  In addition, Gunther
(1995) found a strong third-person effect for pornography, which his
participants were likely to have seen as socially unacceptable.
                In the political domain, Rucinski and Salmon (1990) found that
perceived harmfulness of messages is a significant positive predictor of the
third-person effect, even after controlling for demographics, media use,
political interest and social and economic ideology.  Rucinski and Salmon
discovered the following distribution for the third-person effect:  it was the
strongest for negative political ads, then for political ads, then for polls,
and weakest for news and debates.  Cohen and Davis (1991) found negative
political ads stimulated a third-person effect for people who supported the
candidate attacked in the ads.  Further, Duck and Mullin (1995) observed a
stronger third-person effect for negative content than for positive content,
which in turn elicited larger third-person effects than public service
announcements did.
                These findings provide evidence for a mixture of cognitive and
motivational causes of the third-person effect.  According to the cognitive
explanation, people have schemas of what is socially more or less desirable.
While product commercials are perceived as less socially desirable and
candidates' ads during elections are increasingly seen as part of dirty
campaigns, environmental messages and public service announcements are perceived
as socially desirable.  Once a message is characterized as socially undesirable,
the perceiver has the motivation to maintain and protect his or her
self-evaluation by assuming that he or she would not be susceptible to such a
message.  In the opposite case, when a message is characterized as socially
desirable, the perceiver has the motivation to assume it would have a positive
effect on him or herself.
            Research on Adwatches
                Criticisms of political advertising date far back, e.g., the 1964
and 1972 Presidential campaigns, and the rise of negative political ads has been
accompanied by politicians' counter ads (Ansolabehere & Iyengar, 1995; Devlin,
1995, Diamond & Bass, 1984; Jamieson, 1992a, 1992b; West, 1993).  The news media
have long expanded their watchdog role to monitoring political ads but their
efforts have increased recently (McKinnon, 1995a, 1995b).  With the growing
awareness of negative campaigning in the 1990s, the news media have even started
to refer to themselves as "the ad police" (Jackson & McCaughan, 1992).  Studies
on the specific genre of political adwatches are mostly recent, following this
trend.
                Despite the logical expectations of adwatches' anti-deception
power, the still limited research on adwatches has produced mixed results about
their anticipated positive effects.  Jamieson (1994) suggested that they may in
fact have a boomerang effect.  That is, exposure to adwatches criticizing a
candidate's negative ad may lead to better recall of the ad than of the fact
that it contained a misleading message.  Only if the adwatch's format was boxed,
rather than full screen, Jamieson reported, was the adwatch remembered better
than the ad.  Other studies discovered similar mixed effects.  Pfau and Louden
(1994) found, among female viewers, a boomerang effect for one candidate's ad
that was remembered better after viewing the adwatch criticizing it.  Capella
and Jamieson (1994) found, among other effects, that adwatches did not lead to a
more positive attitude toward the candidate who had been criticized in the ad by
his opponent, and that an adwatch's content was best remembered by people who
had had the least exposure to the original ad.  Further, McKinnon (1995a, 1995b)
found that the attitude toward a candidate sponsoring an attack ads was more
favorable than the attitude toward the attacked candidate, even after viewing
the adwatch.
                These findings suggest possible negative effects of adwatches.
Investigating the third-person effect in association with adwatches will bring
further insights into understanding the audience perceptions of adwatches and
their potential effects.
            Hypotheses
            The Third-person Effect and Social Desirability of the Message
                The research showing differential third-person effects for socially
desirable and undesirable messages and sources can be translated to the
reception of political ads and political adwatches.  The perceived social
desirability of negative political ads and adwatches should influence the
magnitude of the third-person effect.  Negative ads, as shown by Rucinski and
Salmon (1990) are perceived as socially harmful.  As one columnist intuitively
put it, "negative campaigning is rarely pretty. Sometimes it doesn't feel good
either" (Broder, 1995, p. 4A).  In contrast, adwatches should be generally seen
as socially desirable messages.  After all, they are created to compensate for
the perceived negative effects of misleading negative political ads.  In this
way, one of the expected positive effects is that of a "reality check"
(Jamieson, 1994, p. 56).  Therefore, although the third-person effect can be
expected to be magnified for political ads, it should be smaller for the more
socially desirable adwatches.
                There is another dimension that distinguishes negative political
ads from political adwatches--credibility of the source.  Negative ads are
usually designed in favor of or by a candidate who hopes to gain votes by
discrediting his or her opponent.  In contrast, adwatches are conducted by the
news media whose entire mission in society is framed in terms of impartial,
fair, balanced, and accurate presentation of information, as well as in the role
of a politicians' watchdog.  In an experimental study of the effects of ads and
adwatches, O'Sullivan and Geiger (1996, p. 780) observed that "people likely can
distinguish between information coming from an ostensibly disinterested source
and a persuasive message from a source with a vested interest in the outcome."
According to O'Sullivan and Geiger's (1996) findings, negative political ads are
seen as less credible than the adwatches that are created and produced by
journalists.  In the third-person effect research, the effect has been found to
increase when the source of the message is perceived to be untrustworthy due to
bias, for example, defamatory newspaper articles (Cohen, Mutz, Price & Gunther,
1988)  or because of low credibility of the medium, for example, the National
Enquirer (Gunther, 1991).  Given the fact that the third-person effect is a
robust and far-reaching phenomenon, as well as this literature's framework, we
expect that:
                H1: Third-person effects will be present for both ads and
adwatches.  The third-person effects will be greater for ads than for adwatches.
            The Third-person Effect and Attitude toward the Ad
                If a message is perceived to be socially undesirable or harmful, as
negative political ads are (Rucinski & Salmon, 1990; Broder, 1995), the attitude
toward them should be negative.  Adwatches further facilitate this negative
attitude toward the ads.  In a field experiment (Capella & Jamieson, 1994),
adwatches affected subjects' views of the ads' importance and fairness, i.e.,
made the attitude toward the ads more negative.  Surprisingly, however,
attitudes toward the adwatches have also been found to be fairly unfavorable.
McKinnon (1995a, 1995b) found that subjects in her experiment mostly agreed with
negative opinion statements about the effects, fairness, and accuracy of the
adwatches to which they were exposed.  Negative perception of media messages
stimulates the third-person effect, as previous research has shown.  Therefore,
we expect that:
                H2: Third-person effect for ads will be negatively associated with
attitude toward the ads.  The more negative the attitude toward the ads, the
greater the third-person effect for ads and vice versa.  Third-person effect for
adwatches will be negatively associated with attitude toward the adwatches.  The
more negative the attitude toward the adwatches, the greater the third-person
effect for adwatches and vice versa.
            The Third-person Effect and Treatment Condition
                We also expect the third-person effects for negative political ads
and adwatches to vary, based on whether subjects see both ads and adwatches or
one type of message alone.  McKinnon (1995a, 1995b) found that subjects'
attitudes toward political ads were enhanced when they saw the ads in
conjunction with adwatches.  Based on this result, as well as on the previous
hypothesis that attitudes toward ads and adwatches and the third-person effects
are associated, we predict that:
                H3:  The levels of the third-person effects for ads and adwatches
will differ between groups who see ads or adwatches alone and those who see
both.
                The above three hypotheses concern the effects of specific media
messages, such as negative political ads and adwatches, on the third-person
effect that people experience.  The next hypotheses refer to characteristics of
the message perceivers themselves that may influence the strength of the
third-person effect exhibited in the context of political ads and adwatches.
            The Third-person Effect and Public Mood
                The influence of the social desirability of messages on the
strength of the third-person effect, found in previous research, shows the
nature of the effect as a state, variable with external influences.  That is,
the third-person effect varies within individuals.  However, there is also
evidence that the third-person effect varies across individuals, regardless of
the message.  Recent developments in the study of the third-person effect have
suggested that, as much as the effect is shown to be a state, it is also a trait
exhibited by some individuals more than by others.  Perceiver characteristics
predicting the third-person effect include demographics, such as age and
education (Tiedge, Silverblatt, Havice, & Rosenfeld, 1991), actual and perceived
personal or general knowledge/cognitive involvement (Lasorsa, 1989; Mutz, 1989;
Perloff, 1989; Price, Huang, & Tewksbury, 1995; Vallone, Ross, & Lepper, 1985),
ego-involvement, such as membership in a group or political orientations (Duck
et al., 1995; Perloff, 1989), media orientations (Price et al., 1995), media use
patterns (Rucinski & Salmon, 1990), or personality characteristics, such as need
for cognition  (Ognianova & Thorson, 1996; Ognianova, Thorson & Rahn, 1995).
Indeed, it is logical that, if individual traits affect people's susceptibility
to persuasion (Abelson, 1959), then they also affect people's perception of
others' and their own persuasibility.
                A similar variable with both state and trait components is the
newly introduced in political psychology construct of public mood.  This concept
refers to citizens' feelings about their political environment.  In general,
mood is a long-term positive or negative feeling that does not have the intense
peaks usually associated with emotion and is not traceable to a specific source
(e.g., Clore, Schwarz, & Conway, 1993; Fiske & Taylor, 1992).  Public mood, in
turn, is defined as a "diffuse affective state, having distinct positive and
negative components, that people experience because of their membership in a
particular political community" (Rahn, Kroeger, & Kite, in press, p. 4).
                A way to understand the concept of public mood is to compare it to
the feelings people have as members of social groups.  Public mood is a subset
of what psychologists refer to as "social emotion."  If people have certain
feelings as members of social groups, they should experience similar feelings as
members of political communities.  Rahn's research (Clore & Rahn, 1994; Rahn &
Clore, 1994; Rahn et al., in press) gives examples of such public feelings: the
feeling that most Americans experience when a fellow American wins the Olympics,
after the death of a public figure who represented the country as a whole, or
during periods of perceived threats to national security.  In explaining the
construct of public mood, Rahn refers to Katz's (1965) work that has suggested
two levels at which people function as members of a [political] system.  Katz
(p. 361) has written that:  "At the one level they [people] are tied into the
structure through their emotional investment in symbol systems....  At another
level people are integrated into the system through their functional
interdependence in their everyday activities and their empirically oriented
beliefs about these interdependent activities."  As can be seen from the quote,
both of these levels have affective components.
                If one's private mood is dependent on physiological, cognitive
(such as memory of experiences; e.g., Simon, 1982), and environmental factors,
public mood is narrowly experienced as a function of one's membership in a
political community (Clore & Rahn, 1994; Kite & Rahn, 1995; Rahn & Clore, 1994;
Rahn et al., in press).  Public mood cannot be dependent on physiological
factors, although it might be possible to measure by autonomic responses as
private mood often is.  It is logical that one's private and public moods are
related because a person's mood may affect his or her feelings about the
political community; and vice versa, a positive or negative mood about the
political community may affect one's private mood.  Despite their relationship,
it has been suggested that private and public moods are analyzed separately as
two different concepts (Clore & Rahn; Rahn & Clore, 1994).  Public mood is
experienced in different context from that, which stimulates personal feelings.
Although an individual may not distinguish between the two different feelings
associated with one's personal life and one's political environment, they are
driven by different forces.
                Similar to the third-person effect, public mood is a complex
construct that has the characteristics of both a state and a trait (Kite & Rahn,
1995).  Public mood is influenced by external stimuli, such as media messages
(Rahn & Hirshorn, 1995), but it also has its origins in individual differences,
such as demographics, personal experiences, and personality characteristics.  A
number of studies (Kite & Rahn, 1995; Ognianova, Thorson, & Coyle, 1996; Rahn
and Clore, 1994; Rahn et al., in press) have found that people in fact start out
with different feelings about their country or state, depending on their
individual differences.  The findings that both the third-person effect and
public mood have trait components suggest that there may be a relationship
between the two variables.  This study attempts to test such possible
relationship specifically in the context of viewing negative political ads and
adwatches.
                There is some evidence that the two variables operate in a similar
way.  For example, much like the third-person effect, public mood is affected by
negative political advertising.  Rahn and Hirshorn (1995) conducted an
experiment presenting negative or positive ads to children (age 8 through 13)
and measuring afterwards their public moods about their country.  Children
exposed to negative ads reported feeling significantly more unhappy, more sad
and more angry about their country than children in the positive ads condition.
Furthermore, after regressing the children's pre-test public mood and tone of
the ads on the post-test public mood, the authors found a significant effect for
the ads' tone on the post-test public mood. They concluded that, "while public
mood has considerable inertia, it can be influenced by the tone of political
advertising"  (Rahn & Hirshorn, 1995, p. 11).  In addition, Thorson, Ognianova,
Coyle and Denton (1995) found in survey research that self-reported exposure to
negative political advertising was strongly related to increased negative public
moods and decreased positive public moods.
                Based on the similar nature of public mood and the third-person
effect, as well as on the findings that they are influenced by similar stimuli,
we expect that:
                H4:  Third-person effects for ads and adwatches will be positively
associated with negative public moods and negatively associated with positive
public moods.
            The Third-person Effect and Political Cynicism
                 There is evidence that public mood is associated with citizens'
level of political cynicism.  Thorson, Ognianova, Coyle and Denton (1995) found
clear support for the hypothesis that self-reported exposure to negative
political ads is related to increased political cynicism, and self-reported
exposure to positive political ads is related to decreased political cynicism.
This result can be extended to adwatches.  In general, the mass media are blamed
for instilling political cynicism--the so-called "video malaise" hypothesis
(Robinson, 1976), as well as the popular argument that the press is "a
generation of vipers" and that they "hold causal disdain" for everything
political (Starobin, 1995).  In regards to adwatches, it can be argued that, in
their own way, they arm citizens with yet more knowledge about dirty campaigning
that could naturally be related to political cynicism.  If the third-person
effect does indeed have the components of both a trait and a state, it is
possible that people's enduring level of political cynicism and the third-person
effects they experience are related. Thus, we also expect that:
                H5: The third-person effects for ads and adwatches will be
positively associated with level of political cynicism.
            Method
                To test the above hypotheses, an experiment was conducted in
October, 1994, with one hundred and ninety-five students enrolled in an
undergraduate American Government class at a large Midwestern university.
Approximately six weeks before the experiment, a pre-test survey collected
information about participants' demographics, political knowledge, and their
public moods about the state and the country.  For participating in the
experiment, the subjects received extra class credit but questionnaire responses
were anonymous.  Subjects were randomly assigned to one of nine treatment
conditions, each of which consisted of presentation of videotaped segments of a
local television news program with commercials inserted between news segments.
Participants were escorted in groups of five to 10 people to a comfortable
viewing room, where they completed a pretest pencil and paper questionnaire.
They then watched the videotape and completed a post-test pencil and paper
questionnaire.  The procedure lasted about 45 minutes.
            Stimulus Materials
                The treatments consisted of combinations of previously aired
negative political ads and adwatches concerning two 1994 political campaigns:  a
U.S. Senate campaign featuring John Ashcroft (a Republican former two-term
Governor) and Alan Wheat (a Democratic U.S. Senate representative who had served
six terms in office); the second campaign was for the state auditor position and
featured Margaret Kelly ( a Republican incumbent) and Steve Danner (a Democratic
challenger).  Although the political ads had appeared in television markets
statewide, the adwatches used had appeared in distant markets elsewhere in the
state.  The adwatches (with an introduction by a local news anchor) were then
edited into a tape of an actual newscast.
                For each campaign (the senate and state auditor) there were four
treatment conditions.  Condition 1 showed a television commercial for each
candidate (the two commercials were in the same pod), which were followed later
in the newscast by adwatches that analyzed the claims made in each ad.  In
Condition 2, the order was transposed, with the adwatches appearing first and
the political ads appearing later.  Condition 3 did not contain the political
ads, exposing the subjects to the adwatches only.  In Condition 4, the news
segments did not contain the adwatches, but included the political ads.  Thus,
there was a total of eight treatment conditions (4 treatments x 2 political
campaigns) used.  A ninth condition was a control, in which the news segment was
viewed, but no political ads or adwatches were included.  Participants either
saw commercials and adwatches designed for the U.S. Senate campaign, or for the
state auditor race.
            Measures
                The third-person effect is a robust phenomenon detected both by
experimental and survey research.  It is usually measured by asking questions
about how much respondents think the media in general or specific media messages
affect themselves and how much they think the media and their messages affect
other people.  (The latter varies, depending on the purposes of the study.  For
example, if a study tests the effect of the social distance to various reference
groups, this question could range from specific, closer groups to vague, more
distant ones, such as "most people" or "the general public.")  The order in
which the "me" or "others" questions are asked has been shown to not affect the
magnitude and behavior of the third-person effect (Tiedge et al., 1991).
                The influence that respondents report for themselves is subtracted
from the influence that they perceive other people in general experience.  The
formula is simply:
                E = O - M,
            where E is the effect or the perceived difference between the media
influence on self and others; O is the perceived magnitude of media influence on
others; and M is the perceived magnitude of media influence on oneself.  If the
resulting value is positive, then there is a clear third-person effect.  If the
resulting value is negative (i.e., if others are perceived to be less affected
than oneself) this is a reverse third-person effect, sometimes called a
first-person effect.  If the resulting value is zero, a null effect or a
perception of equal media influence is exhibited.
                In this study, the operationalization of other people was general,
asking participants how much they thought "other viewers" and themselves would
be influenced by the political ads and adwatches viewed during the procedure.
Perceived influence on self and others was measured on five point scales, with
one indicating "not very influenced" and five indicating "very influenced."
When perceived influence on oneself was subtracted from perceived influence on
others then, the possible values for a third-person effect ranged from a minus
four to a plus four.
                Attitude toward the ads was measured by three seven-point scales
anchored by dislike/like very much, very negative/very positive ad, and very
good/very bad ad.  Cronbach's alpha coefficients indicated satisfactory internal
consistency of all scales:  .83 for attitude toward the John Ashcroft ad, .79
for attitude toward the Alan Wheat ad, .78 for attitude toward the Margaret
Kelly ad, and .74 for attitude toward the Steve Danner ad.  Attitude toward the
adwatches was measured the same way and showed similar inter-item consistency.
Cronbach's alpha coefficients were as follows: .85 for attitude toward the John
Ashcroft adwatch, .86 for attitude toward the Alan Wheat adwatch, .80 for
attitude toward the Margaret Kelly adwatch, and .80 attitude toward the Steve
Danner adwatch.
                Public mood about the state was measured before and after
participants viewed the stimulus materials.  The construct of public mood has
been found to have the structure of two distinct, but correlated factors,
labeled positive and negative public mood (Rahn & Clore, 1994; Rahn et al., in
press).  This distinction is common in the literature on theories of affect,
whether the factors are termed positive and negative affect, or something else.
Mano (1990) has also found support for a two-factor structure of affective
states, consisting of pleasantness and arousal.
                In this study, measures of pleasure/displeasure, tested in the
psychology literature (e.g., Russell & Mehrabian, 1977), were used to measure
public mood about the state.  Participants were asked:  When you think about
the state of ... right at this moment, how strongly or weakly do you feel:
hopeful, despairing, happy, unhappy.  The response options were "very strongly,
strongly, neither strongly nor weakly, weakly, and very weakly."  The Cronbach's
alpha coefficients indicated satisfactory internal consistency of both scales:
.62 for positive mood about the state and .75 for negative mood about the
state.
As could be expected, the two public mood scales were significantly inversely
correlated (r=-.57, p<.01).
                The political cynicism scale was composed of responses to seven
items, used consistently by the Times Mirror Center (1994) and measured in a
pretest approximately six weeks before the experiment.  The Cronbach's alpha
coefficient of .74 also indicated satisfactory internal consistency of this
scale.  Table 1 lists the items that were used to measure all variables of
interest in the study.
            Results
                This study predicted that third-person effects would be present in
people's perceptions about two types of televised political communication,
negative political ads and media-produced political adwatches critiquing the
ads.  Two kinds of hypotheses were posited.  The first kind predicted
third-person effects as influenced by the media messages, specifically that the
third-person effects for negative political ads would be greater than those for
adwatches, that the effects would differ in association with subjects' attitudes
toward the ads and the adwatches, and that the effects would differ based on
whether subjects saw the ads or adwatches alone or in conjunction.  The second
kind of hypotheses predicted third-person effects as influenced by
characteristics of the message perceivers, specifically that the third-person
effects for ads and adwatches would be associated with subjects' public mood
about the state and with their level of political cynicism.
                We began the data analysis by first determining if third-person
effects, which have been found in wide-ranging areas of research, would in fact
be apparent after single exposures to televised political ads and/or adwatches.
Clear third-person effects for both ads and adwatches were found.  As Table 2
shows, all four of the political ads produced greater perceived effects on
others than on the participants themselves.  The third-person effects ranged
from a low of .53 for the John Ashcroft ad to a high of .86 for the Alan Wheat
ad.  Of the 130 subjects in conditions where they saw political ads, 78
exhibited a third-person effect, 42 exhibited no difference, and 10 exhibited a
negative third-person (or a first-person) effect.  The overall mean third-person
effect for ads was .68.  A t-test comparing this mean against a null hypothesis
of no effect was significant (t (129) = 8.35, p < .001).  Third-person effects
for adwatches were also apparent, occurring for all four of the political
adwatches, with mean third-person effects ranging from a low of .23 for the
Steve Danner adwatch to a high of .47 for the John Ashcroft adwatch.
Third-person effects for adwatches were less frequent, however, exhibited by 56
of the 129 subjects in the adwatch conditions, with 52 exhibiting no effect and
21 exhibiting a negative third-person (or first-person) effect.  The overall
mean third-person effect for adwatches of .34 was also significantly different
from zero (t (128) = 4.27, p < .001).
            ----------------------------------
            Insert Table 2 about here
            ---------------------------------
                In addition to predicting that third-person effects would be found
for both ads and adwatches, Hypothesis 1 proposed that third-person effects for
ads would be greater than those for adwatches due to perceptions of adwatches as
socially desirable messages.  As already shown in Table 2, the overall mean for
third-person effects for ads was .68, twice as high as the overall mean for
adwatches, .34.  A one-tailed dependent t-test on matched pairs (i.e.,
participants in treatment conditions 1 and 2, which showed both the ads and the
adwatches for each campaign) provided further confirmation for the prediction of
greater third-person effects for political ads than adwatches (t 81 = 3.94, p <
.001).  Thus, Hypothesis 1 was clearly supported.
                Hypothesis 2 predicted that third-person effects for ads would be
negatively associated with attitudes toward the ads and third-person effects for
adwatches would be negatively associated with attitudes toward the adwatches.
Partial support for this hypothesis was found using Pearson correlations as
statistical tests, as shown in Table 3.  For the John Ashcroft messages,
significant relationships were found between attitude toward the ad and
third-person effect for the ad (n = 68, r = -.32, p < .01), and between attitude
toward the adwatch and third-person effect for the adwatch (n = 68, r = -.29, p
< .01).  For the Alan Wheat messages, attitude toward the adwatch and
third-person effect for the adwatch were significantly related (n = 69, r =
-.20, p < .05); the correlation for attitude toward the ad and third-person
effect for the ad was in the predicted direction but was marginal in
significance (n = 68, r = -.18, p <.10).  Correlations were not significant for
the Margaret Kelly and the Steve Danner messages of the auditor's campaign.
            --------------------------------
            Insert Table 3 about here
            --------------------------------
                Hypothesis 3 predicted that third-person effects for ads and
adwatches would vary based on whether subjects saw both ads and adwatches or
only one type of message.  Here, we were interested in seeing, regardless of
which political campaign messages were used, if the magnitude of the
third-person effects for ads or adwatches would be mediated by the presence of
an opposite, or counterarguing, message.  As such, we collapsed across treatment
conditions that showed ads and adwatches from the different political campaigns
to create a between-subjects factor for message exposure (i.e., both types of
messages versus one type of message shown).
                Table 4 shows the mean third-person effects for ads/adwatches,
adwatches/ads, adwatches/no ads, ads/no adwatches, and overall for all treatment
conditions.  Inspection of the table shows that the mean third-person effect
does indeed vary, depending upon whether the subjects saw one message only or
the two messages together.  The mean third-person effect for the adwatches only
condition was .59, nearly three times greater than when the adwatches were seen
in combination with the political ads (mean = .24).  On the other hand, the
third-person effect was the largest when subjects saw adwatches and ads together
but viewed the adwatches first and the critiqued ads afterwards.
            -------------------------------
            Insert Table 4 about here
            -------------------------------
                These mixed results required further testing of Hypothesis 3.
Since one hypothesis in the study stated that positive public mood and negative
public would be associated with third-person effects for adwatches, we ran an
analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) test on third-person effects for message
exposure as the between-subjects factor [one message (ads only or adwatches
only) vs. ads and adwatches together] and positive public mood and negative
public mood as covariates.  After the effects of the mood variables were
covaried out, the message exposure factor was significant (F (1,125) = 6.81, p =
.01), again indicating that adwatches seen in combination with the ads they
were
critiquing produced different third-person effects than when only the adwatches
were seen.  The analysis for ads alone vs. ads in conjunction with adwatches,
however, did not yield significant results.  Hypothesis 3 then, was supported
for third-person effects for adwatches but not for ads.
                Hypotheses 4 and 5 predicted that third-person for ads and
adwatches would be positively associated with negative public mood and
negatively associated with positive public mood, and that third-person effects
would be positively associated with subjects' level of political cynicism.
Table 5 shows the results for these hypotheses.  First order correlations
indicated general support for the relationships in the predicted directions for
adwatches.  Strong associations were found between third-person effects for
adwatches and public mood.  Subjects with higher levels of positive public mood
consistently exhibited smaller third-person effects for adwatches.  The
correlations between positive public mood were significant in the predicted
directions for the John Ashcroft adwatch
            (r = -.42, p < .01), the Alan Wheat adwatch (r = -.29, p < .01), and
the Margaret Kelly adwatch (r = -.21, p < .05); the correlation for the Steve
Danner adwatch was not significant.  The correlation between positive public
mood and the overall third-person effect for adwatches was significant as well
(r = -.27, p < .01).
                Negative public mood also operated as predicted, showing a positive
relationship wherein third-person effects for adwatches increased for subjects
who had higher negative feelings about their state.  Three of the correlations
were significant in the predicted direction:  for the John Ashcroft adwatch (r =
.29, p < .01); for the Alan Wheat adwatch
            (r = . 20, p < .05); and for the overall third-person effect for
adwatches (r = .23, p < .01).  The correlations between negative public mood and
third-person effect for the Margaret Kelly and Steve Danner adwatches were in
the predicted positive direction but not significant.
                For third-person effect for ads, however, the hypothesis of a
positive association between negative public mood and the third-person effect
and a negative association between positive public mood and the third-person
effect was not entirely supported.  The only significant correlations for public
mood and third-person effects for ads were for positive public mood and
third-person effect for the Steve Danner ad (r = -.26, p < .05), and for
negative public mood and third-person effect for the John Ashcroft ad (r = .20,
p < .05).
                Finally, Hypothesis 5, which predicted a positive association
between third-person effects for ads and adwatches and political cynicism was
generally supported.   The third-person effect for the Steve Danner ad was
significantly correlated in the predicted direction with level of political
cynicism.  Correlations between the third-person effects for the other three
candidates' ads and political cynicism, however, were not significant.
Third-person effects for adwatches criticizing the John Ashcroft, Margaret
Kelly, and Steve Danner ads were not significantly correlated with political
cynicism either.  On the other hand, the third-person effect for the adwatch
criticizing Alan Wheat's ad was positively correlated with political cynicism
and the overall third-person effect for adwatches was also significantly
positively correlated with political cynicism.  Overall then, Hypothesis 5 was
supported.  Table 5 shows the results for Hypotheses 4 and 5.
            ----------------------------------
            Insert Table 5 about here
            ---------------------------------
            Discussion
                This study linked two new and important topics of research in
political communication--adwatches and public mood--to the third-person effect,
allowing us to gain more insight into this peculiar but persistent phenomenon of
mass communication.  As expected, most people showed a third-person effect, both
in thinking they were less influenced by the ads and the adwatches.  Also as
expected, the third-person effect was smaller for adwatches than for ads, and it
would appear that the social acceptability aspect of these two types of messages
is relevant here.  The finding that there is greater variation in the ratings of
influence on self than on others is interesting and should be pursued.  It is
consistent with the findings that people perceive others less familiar to be
less complex, less variable, and less individualistic than those familiar to
themselves (e.g., Perdue, Dovidio, Gurtman, & Tyler, 1990).  The person we know
best is ourself, and we know something of the complexity of that self.  Others,
however, we do not know so much about, and therefore their variability likely
seems less to us.  The pattern of effects within the third-person phenomenon
seems to be tied closely to perceptions of that about which we know little--that
is, about others.
                The finding that adwatch third-person effects were greater when the
adwatches were seen in isolation than when they were seen in conjunction with
the ads they were critiquing (See Table 4), is an intriguing one.  We
hypothesized an exposure effect under the assumption that watching ads lessened
the effects of adwatches.  Whether this was the cause of the adwatch-alone
effect or not is not perfectly clear.  It may be that people are actually very
influenced by the adwatch alone, and therefore they infer that others are even
more affected.  Or, it may be that they are less affected and rate themselves
that way, but continue to give others the same estimate of effect.  In either
case, this finding is consistent with the notion that adwatches have greater
effects when the ads are not around to be seen, thus supporting the work of
Capella and Jamieson (1994).
                Interestingly, public mood was an important mediator of the
third-person effects.  Those with more negative public moods showed greater
third-person effects.  However, the effects of seeing either both ads and
adwatches or just adwatches by themselves remained significant, even when public
mood was covaried out.
                Finally, another important finding suggested that attitudes toward
the ad or the adwatch may act in conjunction with the third-person effect.  The
more negative the attitudes toward the ad or the adwatch, the greater the
third-person effect.  This result is also consistent with the notion that less
social acceptability of the messages leads to greater third-person effects.  It
should be noted, of course, that which direction the causal relation flows here
cannot be ascertained.  It may have been that the more third-person effect there
was, the less people liked the adwatches, although the logic here is less
compelling.
                In general, this study showed that the third-person effect is
clearly influenced by what combination of ads and adwatches people view.  The
third-person effect is related to the public moods that people experience and to
their levels of political cynicism.  And, the third-person effect is related to
how well people like political ads and the adwatches critiquing them.  What is
needed next is a more micro-level examination of just how public mood,
perceptions of self and others, and processing of media messages about politics
are related.  What process comes first?  How do people ascertain "how influenced
they are" in response to media messages?  Then how do they ascertain "how
influenced others are."  Do these decisions then feed directly into how they
feel about political entities like state and country?  And probably most
importantly, for those who work in the mass media message field, exactly how do
messages affect these processes?
 
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             Table 1
            Measures
 
            _______________________________
 
            Measures of third-person effect for ads
            _______________________________
 
            How influenced would you say you are by the ad in favor of (John
Ashcroft, Alan Wheat, Margaret Kelly, Steve Danner, depending on treatment
condition)?
            Response categories: (1) Not very influenced to (5) Very influenced
(Me)
 
            How influenced would you say other viewers are by the ad in favor of
(John Ashcroft, Alan Wheat, Margaret Kelly, Steve Danner, depending on treatment
condition)?
            Response categories: (1) Not very influenced to (5) Very influenced
(Others)
 
            Third-person effect for ads = Others - Me
 
            _________________________________________________
 
            Measures of third-person effect for adwatches (truth watches)
            _________________________________________________
 
            How influenced would you say you are by the truth watch criticism of
the (John Ashcroft, Alan Wheat, Margaret Kelly, Steve Danner, depending on
treatment condition) ad?
            Response categories: (1) Not very influenced to (5) Very influenced
(Me)
 
            How influenced would you say other viewers are by the truth watch
criticism of the (John Ashcroft, Alan Wheat, Margaret Kelly, Steve Danner,
depending on treatment condition) ad?
            Response categories: (1) Not very influenced to (5) Very influenced
(Others)
 
            Third-person effect for adwatches = Others - Me
 
            ____________________________
 
            Measures of attitude towards the ad
            ____________________________
 
            Please circle a number from 1 to 7 to indicate your attitude towards
the (John Ashcroft, Alan Wheat, Margaret Kelly, Steve Danner, depending on
treatment condition) ad that you saw:
            Dislike very much   1       2       3       4       5       6       7 Like very much
            Very negative ad    1       2       3       4       5       6       7 Very positive ad
            Very bad ad         1       2       3       4       5       6       7 Very good ad
 
            Cronbach's alpha for Ashcroft's ad=.83
            Cronbach's alpha for Wheat's ad=.79
            Cronbach's alpha for Margaret Kelly's ad=.78
            Cronbach's alpha for Steve Danner's ad=.74
 
             Table 1 continued: Measures
            ________________________________
 
            Measures of attitude towards the adwatch
            _________________________________
 
            Using a 7-point scale, please indicate your attitude towards the
truth watch criticizing the (John Ashcroft, Alan Wheat, Margaret Kelly, Steve
Danner, depending on treatment condition) ad:
            Dislike very much 1 2       3       4       5       6       7 Like very much
            Very negative             1 2       3       4       5       6       7 Very positive truth watch
            Very bad ad       1 2       3       4       5       6       7 Very good ad
 
            Cronbach's alpha for adwatch about Ashcroft's ad=.85
            Cronbach's alpha for adwatch about Wheat's ad=.86
            Cronbach's alpha for adwatch about Kelly's ad=.80
            Cronbach's alpha for adwatch about Danner's ad=.80
 
            ____________________
 
            Measures of public mood
            ____________________
 
            Now, when you think about the state of ..., please circle a number
from one to five to indicate how strongly or weakly you experience the following
emotions at this moment:
 
                Very strongly   Strongly        Neither strongly        Weakly  Very weakly
                                                nor weakly
            Hopeful     1               2               3                       4               5
            Despairing  1               2               3                       4               5
            Happy               1               2               3                       4               5
            Unhappy     1               2               3                       4               5
 
            Positive public mood composed of hopeful and happy.  Cronbach's
alpha=.62
            Negative public mood composed of despairing and unhappy.  Cronbach's
alpha=.75
            Positive and negative moods correlation r=-.57 (p<.01)
 
            ________________________
 
            Measures of political cynicism
            ________________________
 
            Using a scale of one to five (1=Strongly disagree, 2=Disagree,
3=Neither agree nor disagree, 4=Agree, 5=Strongly agree), please circle a number
to indicate your agreement/disagreement with the following statements:
 
            Politicians are all alike.
            Politicians really try to represent the interest of the people
(reversed).
            Politicians would rather tear down their opponent than talk about
their own record.
            Politicians are honorable people who are dedicated to public service
(reversed).
            Politicians' votes are for sale to the highest bidder.
            Generally speaking, elected officials in Washington lose touch with
the people pretty quickly.
            Most elected officials care what people like me think (reversed).
            Cronbach's alpha=.74
 
 
 
 
            Table 2
            Mean Levels of Perceived Influence on Others and Self for Political
Ads and Adwatches
 
 
            Variable
            Mean Influence on Others*
            Mean Influence on Self*
            Third-person Effect (difference)
 
            N
            Ashcroft ad
            3.13
            2.60
            .53
            68
            Wheat ad
            3.10
            2.24
            .86
            68
            Kelly ad
            2.98
            2.44
            .54
            62
            Danner ad
            3.36
            2.60
            .76
            62
                                     Overall mean third-person effect for ads:
.68
            130
            Ashcroft adwatch
 
            3.67
 
            3.20
 
            .47
 
            69
            Wheat adwatch
            3.61
            3.33
            .28
            69
            Kelly adwatch
            3.68
            3.32
            .36
            60
            Danner adwatch
            3.63
            3.40
            .23
            60
                            Overall mean third-person effect for adwatches .34
            129
 
            * Perceived influence measured on a 1-5 scale where 1 = "not very
influenced" and 5 = "very influenced."
                                Table 3
 
            Pearson First-order Correlations between
            Third-person Effects for Ads and Adwatches and
            Attitudes toward the Ads and Adwatches
 
 
 
            Third-person Effect
            for Ads
            Attitude
            toward
            ad
            John Ashcroft ad
            -.32**
            Alan Wheat ad
            -.18a
            Margaret Kelly ad
            -.11
            Steve Danner ad
            -.18
 
            Third-person Effect for Adwatches
            Attitude
            toward
            adwatch
            John Ashcroft adwatch
            -.29**
            Alan Wheat adwatch
            -.20*
            Margaret Kelly adwatch
            -.18
            Steve Danner adwatch
            -.33**
 
            a p<.10, * p < .05, **p< .01.  All significance tests are one-tail
because H2 predicted direction of the associations.
 
 
 
            Table 4
            Mean Third-person Effects for Adwatches and Political Ads
            Based on Treatment Orders
 
            Order
            Adwatches
            Political Ads
            Ads/Adwatches
            .14
            .56
            Adwatches/Ads
            .24
            .82
            Adwatches/No Ads
            .59
 
            Ads/No Adwatches
 
            .64
            All treatment orders
            .34
            .68
 
 
 
 
            Table 5
 
            Pearson First-order Correlations between
            Third-person Effects, Public Mood, and Political Cynicism
 
 
            Third-person Effect
            Positive Public Mood
            Negative Public Mood
 
            Political Cynicism
            John Ashcroft ad
            -.10
            .20*
            .17
            Alan Wheat ad
            .12
            -.06
            -.26
            Margaret Kelly ad
            .20
            -.10
            -.08
            Steve Danner ad
            -.26**
            .03
            .35**
            Overall Third-Person Effect for Ads
 
            -.01
 
            .04
 
            .04
            John Ashcroft adwatch
            -.42**
            .29**
            .09
            Alan Wheat adwatch
            -.29**
            .20*
            .22*
            Margaret Kelly adwatch
            -.21*
            .18
            .15
            Steve Danner adwatch
            -.09
            .17
            .16
            Overall Third-Person Effect for Adwatches
 
            -.27**
 
            .23**
 
            .17*
 
            * p < .05, **p< .01.  All significance tests are one-tail because H4
and H5 predicted directions of the associations.

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