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Exposure to Mediated Political Conflict: Effects of Civility of Interaction on Arousal and Memory
Unformatted Document Text:  11 Next, we examine data related to memory for information in the different conditions. The data below are from Experiment 2. Effects on Recall. Figure 2 shows results for simple recall assessed as people’s ability to correctly recall where each candidate stood on the four issues. Here, just as the literature on arousal predicts, those in the uncivil condition were more likely to know who stood where on the issues (p<.05). Not surprisingly, given that people were asked these questions soon after viewing each debate segment, most people gave correct answers regardless of experimental condition. But those viewing the uncivil encounter had slightly, but significantly fewer errors in accurately locating the positions of the candidates. Assisted recall measures showed no differences between the total number of arguments correctly recalled from the civil and uncivil conditions. Likewise, there was no difference in the overall amount of open-ended recall between civil and uncivil conditions. There were, however, important differences by condition in the amount of recall for arguments supporting their own positions versus those opposing their own positions. As shown in Figure 3, there was a significant interaction between civility and the amount of material subjects recalled about their own views relative to arguments on the other side. Those who watched a civil exchange were more likely to remember the arguments on the side of the issue opposite their own, while those who watched an uncivil exchange remembered primarily arguments on their own side. This interaction was tested using a mixed model analysis of variance treating arguments supporting one’s own side versus the other side as a within-subjects factor, and civility of discourse as a between-subjects factor. A significant interaction emerged (F=5.20, p<.05), showing that the civility manipulation influenced recall of issue arguments on the opposing side, but not recall of arguments on one’s own side of an issue. Discussion Political conflict is inevitable and unavoidable. In this study we examined the idea that perhaps it is the way in which disagreement is presented to the American public that influences attention and subsequent memory for the information viewed. That turned out to be the case, at least for the criteria of arousal and memory. It is clear from Experiment 1 that uncivil discourse is arousing. People automatically respond to raised voices, interruptions and personal accusations with increased interest. This result confirms, perhaps unfortunately, the assumptions that likely encourage the production of uncivil political exchanges. If increased attention, in the form of automatic engagement, is a primary communication goal, civility may get short shrift. Better to yell and interrupt, and it is especially good if the images that convey the uncivil exchanges are shot in a manner that simulates disagreement that is up-close and personal, in viewers’ faces. Incivility, and the increased arousal it produces, is also a route to better memory, at least for the ability to recall candidates’ issue positions. This follows from the increased mobilization of mental resources that comes with arousal. When aroused, people are more attentive; they work harder to discover the implications of arousing stimuli for any action that should follow.

Authors: Mutz, Diana., Reeves, Byron. and Wise, Kevin.
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11
Next, we examine data related to memory for information in the different conditions. The
data below are from Experiment 2.
Effects on Recall. Figure 2 shows results for simple recall assessed as people’s ability
to correctly recall where each candidate stood on the four issues. Here, just as the literature on
arousal predicts, those in the uncivil condition were more likely to know who stood where on the
issues (p<.05). Not surprisingly, given that people were asked these questions soon after
viewing each debate segment, most people gave correct answers regardless of experimental
condition. But those viewing the uncivil encounter had slightly, but significantly fewer errors in
accurately locating the positions of the candidates.

Assisted recall measures showed no differences between the total number of arguments
correctly recalled from the civil and uncivil conditions. Likewise, there was no difference in the
overall amount of open-ended recall between civil and uncivil conditions.

There were, however, important differences by condition in the amount of recall for
arguments supporting their own positions versus those opposing their own positions. As shown
in Figure 3, there was a significant interaction between civility and the amount of material
subjects recalled about their own views relative to arguments on the other side. Those who
watched a civil exchange were more likely to remember the arguments on the side of the issue
opposite their own, while those who watched an uncivil exchange remembered primarily
arguments on their own side. This interaction was tested using a mixed model analysis of
variance treating arguments supporting one’s own side versus the other side as a within-
subjects factor, and civility of discourse as a between-subjects factor. A significant interaction
emerged (F=5.20, p<.05), showing that the civility manipulation influenced recall of issue
arguments on the opposing side, but not recall of arguments on one’s own side of an issue.
Discussion
Political conflict is inevitable and unavoidable. In this study we examined the idea that
perhaps it is the way in which disagreement is presented to the American public that influences
attention and subsequent memory for the information viewed. That turned out to be the case, at
least for the criteria of arousal and memory.

It is clear from Experiment 1 that uncivil discourse is arousing. People automatically
respond to raised voices, interruptions and personal accusations with increased interest. This
result confirms, perhaps unfortunately, the assumptions that likely encourage the production of
uncivil political exchanges. If increased attention, in the form of automatic engagement, is a
primary communication goal, civility may get short shrift. Better to yell and interrupt, and it is
especially good if the images that convey the uncivil exchanges are shot in a manner that
simulates disagreement that is up-close and personal, in viewers’ faces.

Incivility, and the increased arousal it produces, is also a route to better memory, at least
for the ability to recall candidates’ issue positions. This follows from the increased mobilization
of mental resources that comes with arousal. When aroused, people are more attentive; they
work harder to discover the implications of arousing stimuli for any action that should follow.


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