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Exposure to Mediated Political Conflict: Effects of Civility of Interaction on Arousal and Memory
Unformatted Document Text:  5 speaking and listening (Emerson 1844/1893), and "a posture of respectful gentleness and of responsiveness (and hospitableness) to others, including others who may be different from one’s self" (Scorza 1998: 8). Kingwell (1995) also suggests that political discussion does not concern itself enough with the quality and character of conversation, nor with sustaining a culture in which problems can be solved. Politeness and civility are not arbitrary norms akin to using the correct fork, but rather are a means of demonstrating mutual respect. Interpersonal distance. Mediated exposure to different political views is intimate. The interpersonal distance between the viewer and the holder of an opposing view, or at least the simulation of that distance, is generally far less than in real life. Previous research suggests that interpersonal distance – even when manipulated through television as the mere appearance of physical closeness – will affect arousal and attention among viewers. Studies of proxemics show that the physical distance between people has important consequences for the way information is processed. In addition, studies by Reeves and Nass (1996) have shown that people respond to mediated representations of interpersonal distance (manipulated as close-ups versus long shots, and through the size and distance of the image from the viewer) in much the same way that they affect interpersonal distance in face-to-face contexts (see also Middlemist, Knowles & Matter 1976). When a person appears to come closer to the viewer on television, this appearance of physical closeness increases arousal just as it does in real life What do tight facial close-ups suggest about the effects of televised exposure to dissonant political views? Studies of face-to-face physical closeness point to likely consequences. Storms and Thomas (1977) used bogus questionnaire answers to convince experimental subjects that a confederate's attitudes were either similar or dissimilar to his own. When the confederate sat unusually close to the subject, physical distance interacted with similarity so that a similar person who sat close was even better liked, and a dissimilar person who sat close was even more strongly disliked (see also Schiffenbauer & Schiavo 1976). Since the latter condition parallels what happens when television uses close-ups when a person is espousing disagreeable views, the expectation is that reduced interpersonal distance should promote greater dislike for the speaker. When people disagree with each another in real life, the tendency is to back off and increase distance. In contrast, as political conflicts intensify on television, cameras tend to zoom in for tighter close-ups. To summarize, when encountering differences of opinion in person, the tendency is for people to downplay differences and maintain a polite, cordial atmosphere. In contrast, mediated portrayals of political conflict attempt to emphasize strong differences of opinion, at least in part to enhance dramatic value and attract viewers. Media further intensify conflict by constraining a natural instinct to back away from conflict. Instead, people are exposed to oppositional political views in an “in your face” fashion, a presentation that should intensify reactions. Research suggests that people generally find conflict to be disagreeable; if the intensity of experience is increased on television, then negativity should increase when viewed through tighter facial close-ups. The Psychology of Human-Media Interaction Our general theory guiding expectations about mediated experience is that people react to violations of televised face-to-face norms in the same way they would if the violation existed

Authors: Mutz, Diana., Reeves, Byron. and Wise, Kevin.
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speaking and listening (Emerson 1844/1893), and "a posture of respectful gentleness and of
responsiveness (and hospitableness) to others, including others who may be different from
one’s self" (Scorza 1998: 8). Kingwell (1995) also suggests that political discussion does not
concern itself enough with the quality and character of conversation, nor with sustaining a
culture in which problems can be solved. Politeness and civility are not arbitrary norms akin to
using the correct fork, but rather are a means of demonstrating mutual respect.
Interpersonal distance. Mediated exposure to different political views is intimate. The
interpersonal distance between the viewer and the holder of an opposing view, or at least the
simulation of that distance, is generally far less than in real life. Previous research suggests
that interpersonal distance – even when manipulated through television as the mere
appearance of physical closeness – will affect arousal and attention among viewers. Studies of
proxemics show that the physical distance between people has important consequences for the
way information is processed. In addition, studies by Reeves and Nass (1996) have shown that
people respond to mediated representations of interpersonal distance (manipulated as close-
ups versus long shots, and through the size and distance of the image from the viewer) in much
the same way that they affect interpersonal distance in face-to-face contexts (see also
Middlemist, Knowles & Matter 1976). When a person appears to come closer to the viewer on
television, this appearance of physical closeness increases arousal just as it does in real life
What do tight facial close-ups suggest about the effects of televised exposure to
dissonant political views? Studies of face-to-face physical closeness point to likely
consequences. Storms and Thomas (1977) used bogus questionnaire answers to convince
experimental subjects that a confederate's attitudes were either similar or dissimilar to his own.
When the confederate sat unusually close to the subject, physical distance interacted with
similarity so that a similar person who sat close was even better liked, and a dissimilar person
who sat close was even more strongly disliked (see also Schiffenbauer & Schiavo 1976). Since
the latter condition parallels what happens when television uses close-ups when a person is
espousing disagreeable views, the expectation is that reduced interpersonal distance should
promote greater dislike for the speaker. When people disagree with each another in real life,
the tendency is to back off and increase distance. In contrast, as political conflicts intensify on
television, cameras tend to zoom in for tighter close-ups.
To summarize, when encountering differences of opinion in person, the tendency is for
people to downplay differences and maintain a polite, cordial atmosphere. In contrast, mediated
portrayals of political conflict attempt to emphasize strong differences of opinion, at least in part
to enhance dramatic value and attract viewers. Media further intensify conflict by constraining a
natural instinct to back away from conflict. Instead, people are exposed to oppositional political
views in an “in your face” fashion, a presentation that should intensify reactions. Research
suggests that people generally find conflict to be disagreeable; if the intensity of experience is
increased on television, then negativity should increase when viewed through tighter facial
close-ups.
The Psychology of Human-Media Interaction

Our general theory guiding expectations about mediated experience is that people react
to violations of televised face-to-face norms in the same way they would if the violation existed


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