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Fear and Learning in the Illegal Immigration Debate
Unformatted Document Text:  possible. Therefore all subjects were exposed to an immigration video, but the emotional components and cause for worry was varied. Furthermore, we included non-immigration stories in the information search component, which gave subjects an opportunity to opt out of the immigration debate. People may be confronted with threats in politics, but they always have the opportunity to change the channel or switch to reading the comics if they choose. In our sample, most choose to read more about immigration after watching their video, but 29% of the sample chose to avoid immigration stories altogether. We hypothesized that threatening ads would lead to biased information processing, and we tested for bias in three ways: selective exposure, selective attention and engagement. In keeping with our previous work (Gadarian and Albertson, 2008), we find more support for selective attention than selective exposure. While Latinos were largely immune from the threatening ads, African Americans and white Republicans were more likely to remember negative information about immigration after watching the fear of immigrants ad. These findings are interesting because we hold constant exposure to negative information. It appears as though the threatening advertisements can prime people to pay attention to even more threatening information. Anxiety is triggering information processing, but importantly the content of the information is slanted. Finally, we take a new approach in the AI literature, and use open-ended questions to tap agreement and disagreement with the stories. We find large differences in engagement depending upon race and partisanship. It appears that important identities such as race and partisanship are moderating whether people accept or reject information, and this is an interesting complement to the AI literature which implicitly assumes that in the face of threat, long standing decisions rules are cast aside. One’s racial group or 32

Authors: Gadarian, Shana. and Albertson, Bethany.
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possible. Therefore all subjects were exposed to an immigration video, but the emotional
components and cause for worry was varied. Furthermore, we included non-immigration stories
in the information search component, which gave subjects an opportunity to opt out of the
immigration debate. People may be confronted with threats in politics, but they always have the
opportunity to change the channel or switch to reading the comics if they choose. In our sample,
most choose to read more about immigration after watching their video, but 29% of the sample
chose to avoid immigration stories altogether.
We hypothesized that threatening ads would lead to biased information processing, and
we tested for bias in three ways: selective exposure, selective attention and engagement. In
keeping with our previous work (Gadarian and Albertson, 2008), we find more support for
selective attention than selective exposure. While Latinos were largely immune from the
threatening ads, African Americans and white Republicans were more likely to remember
negative information about immigration after watching the fear of immigrants ad. These
findings are interesting because we hold constant exposure to negative information. It appears as
though the threatening advertisements can prime people to pay attention to even more
threatening information. Anxiety is triggering information processing, but importantly the
content of the information is slanted. Finally, we take a new approach in the AI literature, and
use open-ended questions to tap agreement and disagreement with the stories. We find large
differences in engagement depending upon race and partisanship. It appears that important
identities such as race and partisanship are moderating whether people accept or reject
information, and this is an interesting complement to the AI literature which implicitly assumes
that in the face of threat, long standing decisions rules are cast aside. One’s racial group or
32


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