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Exposure to Mediated Political Conflict: Effects of Civility of Interaction on Arousal and Memory
Unformatted Document Text:  10 (Hopkins & Fletcher, 1994), and has been previously used in studies investigating both emotional and cognitive responses to different media (See Reeves & Nass, 1996 (ch. 11); or Lang, 2000 for examples). We measured skin conductance levels by attaching two electrodes to the palm of each subject’s non-dominant hand. Actual data collection began at the start of each tape, with a 10-second period of baseline data recorded while the screen was blank prior to the start of each debate segment. The first 5 minutes of skin conductance level data for each debate segment was analyzed. The SCL data were sampled from subjects every 10 msec and averaged every 1 sec to produce 300 time units of SCL for each subject (5 minutes x 60 one-sec periods). For each subject, separate time series were created that normalized individual SCL data relative to baseline recordings. This was done because baseline SCL varies considerably across people, and because the major analysis interest is changes in SCL relative to an initial state. Subsequent to within-subject normalization, data were aggregated across subjects and issues to produce separate time series for the four conditions in the experiment (civil/medium shots, civil/close shots, uncivil/medium shots, and uncivil/close shots). Results Arousal Findings. Figure 1 shows the results of the analysis examining effects of civility and camera distance on average skin conductance levels by minute. (The times series data with 300 time points was averaged across minutes for clarity of presentation. The analysis used all 300 time points as degrees of freedom). As shown in Figure 1, an initially high level of arousal slowly declined over the course of the five-minute presentations. This is a typical pattern in media studies. The highest arousal levels are typically seen at the onset of material and are followed by generally monotonic declines. Most importantly, there were clear differences between conditions that were in line with expectations. Over the entire series, issue presentations shown in the uncivil version were significantly more arousing than those in the civil version of the same presentations (t = 14.38; df = 1, 299; p < .001). When data were compared for separate one-minute segments, comparisons were also significant (with the exception of minute 4). The analysis for close versus medium shots showed that the close shots were overall significantly more arousing that the medium shots (t = 28.9; df = 1,299; p < .001). Data aggregation within one-minute segments showed that there were significant differences for each of the five segments. As expected, uncivil exchanges of political views that featured tight close-ups were most arousing of all, and highly civil exchanges shown as medium shots were least arousing. Given that politics is not a highly arousing topic, these differences may well signal why audiences are willing to watch such programs. What remains unclear, however, is whether these same differences have implications beyond what is most interesting for viewers to watch.

Authors: Mutz, Diana., Reeves, Byron. and Wise, Kevin.
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10
(Hopkins & Fletcher, 1994), and has been previously used in studies investigating both
emotional and cognitive responses to different media (See Reeves & Nass, 1996 (ch. 11); or
Lang, 2000 for examples). We measured skin conductance levels by attaching two electrodes
to the palm of each subject’s non-dominant hand. Actual data collection began at the start of
each tape, with a 10-second period of baseline data recorded while the screen was blank prior
to the start of each debate segment.
The first 5 minutes of skin conductance level data for each debate segment was
analyzed. The SCL data were sampled from subjects every 10 msec and averaged every 1 sec
to produce 300 time units of SCL for each subject (5 minutes x 60 one-sec periods).
For each subject, separate time series were created that normalized individual SCL data
relative to baseline recordings. This was done because baseline SCL varies considerably
across people, and because the major analysis interest is changes in SCL relative to an initial
state. Subsequent to within-subject normalization, data were aggregated across subjects and
issues to produce separate time series for the four conditions in the experiment (civil/medium
shots, civil/close shots, uncivil/medium shots, and uncivil/close shots).
Results
Arousal Findings. Figure 1 shows the results of the analysis examining effects of
civility and camera distance on average skin conductance levels by minute. (The times series
data with 300 time points was averaged across minutes for clarity of presentation. The analysis
used all 300 time points as degrees of freedom).

As shown in Figure 1, an initially high level of arousal slowly declined over the course of
the five-minute presentations. This is a typical pattern in media studies. The highest arousal
levels are typically seen at the onset of material and are followed by generally monotonic
declines.

Most importantly, there were clear differences between conditions that were in line with
expectations. Over the entire series, issue presentations shown in the uncivil version were
significantly more arousing than those in the civil version of the same presentations (t = 14.38;
df = 1, 299; p < .001). When data were compared for separate one-minute segments,
comparisons were also significant (with the exception of minute 4).

The analysis for close versus medium shots showed that the close shots were overall
significantly more arousing that the medium shots (t = 28.9; df = 1,299; p < .001). Data
aggregation within one-minute segments showed that there were significant differences for each
of the five segments.
As expected, uncivil exchanges of political views that featured tight close-ups were most
arousing of all, and highly civil exchanges shown as medium shots were least arousing. Given
that politics is not a highly arousing topic, these differences may well signal why audiences are
willing to watch such programs. What remains unclear, however, is whether these same
differences have implications beyond what is most interesting for viewers to watch.


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