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Exposure to Mediated Political Conflict: Effects of Civility of Interaction on Arousal and Memory
Unformatted Document Text:  3 Exposure to Mediated Political Conflict: Effects of Civility of Interaction on Arousal and Memory Americans hate conflict. According to recent research and much popular commentary, a large part of the explanation for why contemporary Americans feel negative about politicians and political institutions is that candidates are perpetually involved in bitter conflict. An increasing number of scholars suggest that such conflict is perceived as distasteful and unnecessary. At the same time, however, the open expression of differing viewpoints is considered essential to the democratic process. The public expression of oppositional political views is fundamental to large-scale, pluralist democracies. Although political debate is often viewed as central to the democratic process, many have argued that it is the way that political debate is conducted that produces adverse consequences. Uslaner (1993), for example, suggests that members of Congress are increasingly likely to violate norms of politeness in their discourse, and Tannen (1998) characterizes the United States as “a culture of argument,” one that encourages “a pervasive warlike atmosphere” for resolving differences of opinion. Televised portrayals of political conflict are treated most severely. For example, Elving (1994) cites media coverage of congressional floor debate as an important source of dissatisfaction with Congress. Cappella and Jamieson (1997) point to media reports that highlight political conflict as a source of popular cynicism. The increasing visibility of political conflict via media seems indisputable (see Funk 2001), and even journalists themselves concur that in American politics, "hyperbole and venomous invective are common talk" (Kakutani 2000). Some scholars have attempted to link political conflict to changes in public attitudes. Durr and colleagues (1997) find that internal discord in Congress drives down support for the institution, and they suggest that media coverage of deliberation makes divisiveness more evident. Similarly, Hibbing and Theiss-Morse (1995, 1998) point to perceptions of pettiness in political conflict as a major source of dissatisfaction with government. A sense that politicians are engaged in pointless bickering is fed by media that emphasize the intensity of conflict whenever possible (see also, McGraw, Willey and Anderson 1998). A common explanation for this state of affairs goes as follows: Intense conflict is arousing and hence, it attracts more viewers. Consequently, television producers encourage bitter and heated exchanges of political viewpoints, which in turn lead people to hold a dim view of politicians and the political process. On the other hand, the typical point-counterpoint format of political television also fills a valuable niche in Americans’ largely homogeneous information environments. People are seldom exposed to disagreeable political views in face-to-face interactions. When Americans talk politics, it tends to be with like-minded others. However, people are exposed to an impressively large dose of dissimilar political views in the media. Television in particular exposes people to far more dissimilar views than do interpersonal acquaintances (Mutz & Martin 2001). This occurs in part because of the relative difficulty in avoiding contrary information. But is also appears to be a function of greater willingness to peek at political conflict as a third party

Authors: Mutz, Diana., Reeves, Byron. and Wise, Kevin.
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Exposure to Mediated Political Conflict:
Effects of Civility of Interaction on Arousal and Memory
Americans hate conflict. According to recent research and much popular commentary, a
large part of the explanation for why contemporary Americans feel negative about politicians
and political institutions is that candidates are perpetually involved in bitter conflict. An
increasing number of scholars suggest that such conflict is perceived as distasteful and
unnecessary. At the same time, however, the open expression of differing viewpoints is
considered essential to the democratic process. The public expression of oppositional political
views is fundamental to large-scale, pluralist democracies.
Although political debate is often viewed as central to the democratic process, many
have argued that it is the way that political debate is conducted that produces adverse
consequences. Uslaner (1993), for example, suggests that members of Congress are
increasingly likely to violate norms of politeness in their discourse, and Tannen (1998)
characterizes the United States as “a culture of argument,” one that encourages “a pervasive
warlike atmosphere” for resolving differences of opinion.

Televised portrayals of political conflict are treated most severely. For example, Elving
(1994) cites media coverage of congressional floor debate as an important source of
dissatisfaction with Congress. Cappella and Jamieson (1997) point to media reports that
highlight political conflict as a source of popular cynicism. The increasing visibility of political
conflict via media seems indisputable (see Funk 2001), and even journalists themselves concur
that in American politics, "hyperbole and venomous invective are common talk" (Kakutani 2000).

Some scholars have attempted to link political conflict to changes in public attitudes.
Durr and colleagues (1997) find that internal discord in Congress drives down support for the
institution, and they suggest that media coverage of deliberation makes divisiveness more
evident. Similarly, Hibbing and Theiss-Morse (1995, 1998) point to perceptions of pettiness in
political conflict as a major source of dissatisfaction with government. A sense that politicians
are engaged in pointless bickering is fed by media that emphasize the intensity of conflict
whenever possible (see also, McGraw, Willey and Anderson 1998).

A common explanation for this state of affairs goes as follows: Intense conflict is
arousing and hence, it attracts more viewers. Consequently, television producers encourage
bitter and heated exchanges of political viewpoints, which in turn lead people to hold a dim view
of politicians and the political process.
On the other hand, the typical point-counterpoint format of political television also fills a
valuable niche in Americans’ largely homogeneous information environments. People are
seldom exposed to disagreeable political views in face-to-face interactions. When Americans
talk politics, it tends to be with like-minded others. However, people are exposed to an
impressively large dose of dissimilar political views in the media. Television in particular
exposes people to far more dissimilar views than do interpersonal acquaintances (Mutz & Martin
2001). This occurs in part because of the relative difficulty in avoiding contrary information. But
is also appears to be a function of greater willingness to peek at political conflict as a third party


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