Date of Award
Program or Major
Doctor of Philosophy
For centuries, political philosophers have argued that emotion clouds rational judgment and should be avoided at all costs. In light of advances made in the fields of social cognition, political science, and social psychology, however, the question of how affective states work in conjunction with cognitive processes has been approached anew, and interesting patterns have emerged in the data. They theory of affective intelligence (Marcus, Neuman, & MacKuen, 2000) posits that emotional arousal, particularly anxiety, alerts organisms to gather and evaluate information from the environment that can be useful for self-protection. On the other hand, terror management theory (Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 2002) predicts that anxious individuals will protect themselves from information that is death-related or that threatens their worldview. The primary purpose of this study was to determine if preference for information exposure changes following a threat. Anxiety was manipulated through faux online news articles about nuclear terrorism. After reading the articles, participants spent time exploring a website that contained links to further information about terrorism, some of which reassured the participants of their safety, some of which further threatened their sense of well-being. The order in which the links were clicked and the amount of time spent on each webpage was recorded for each participant. Additionally, participants completed the Need for Evaluation Scale (Jarvis & Petty, 1996), the Miller Behavioral Style Scale (Miller, 1987), and the Brief Big Five Personality Inventory (Gosling, Renfrow, & Swann, 2003) in order to assess individual differences. Although anxiety increased for participants reading an unsafe message about nuclear power, no differences were found between the experimental groups in their preference for information. Overall, participants strongly preferred threatening information, spending roughly three times as long on the threatening websites than on reassuring websites. While high scores on the Need for Evaluation scale predicted less time spent on the threatening websites, the other individual difference measures failed to predict level of information exposure. Overall, the results of this study indicate that following a threat, the preference for information that further heightens anxiety is stronger than the preference for information that would assuage fear.
Surawski, Melissa K., "Searching under stress: Anxiety and selective information exposure" (2007). Doctoral Dissertations. 405.