Communication Studies & Political Science
University of Michigan










Attention to Negative News

This is the project page for Attention to Negative News: Evolutionary and Cultural Accounts, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the LSA at the University of Michigan, and the Hebrew University. The project is a collaboration between myself, Patrick Fournier and Lilach Nir. Related work relying on physiological experimentation has been published with Stephen McAdams (here), Elisabeth Gidengil (here), and Penelope Daignault and Thierry Giasson (here); and is ongoing with Johanna Dunaway and Vin Arceneaux.

This research program focuses on the human tendency to give more weight to negative information than to positive information. The importance of this “negativity bias” in the political sphere is clear. Negativity biases affect the content of political news, and structure the content of political debate; attentiveness to negative information has also been linked to voting behavior and policy preferences. It follows that negativity biases have a significant effect on the nature, quality and functioning of representative democracy. Inadequate or biased political knowledge, systematic biases in what citizens perceive about their governments and the world around them, citizen apathy and disengagement — these are just some of the consequences attributed to negativity in politics. Where does this negativity bias come from? Is it reinforced (and perhaps worsened) by political and media institutions? These are the questions that motivate this project.

Our lab-experimental, psychophysiological research centers around one question in particular: Does the negativity bias, evident in our reactions to news content, vary across countries and cultures? There is no research that currently provides an answer, but answering this question is central to understanding where negativity biases come from in the first place. The answer also has important implications for how we understand political communication, behavior (including policy preferences, and political participation), and institutions.

The project involves experiments run in 18 countries over a five-year period. Data collection has just been completed, and we have been presenting preliminary results at conferences including the Toronto Political Behavior Workshop, the Hendricks Symposium, and the ICA. The most recent conference paper, prepared for presentation at the NYU CESS 10th Annual Experimental Political Science Conference, and relying on data from 12 countries, is A Cross-National, Psychophysiological Study of the Connection between Negativity Biases and Political Preferences. That paper also relies on the current draft of our Methododological Appendix., which explains in detail the structure of our experiments.