Thinking Fast and Furious: Emotional Intensity and Opinion Polarization in Online Media

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Abstract

How do online media increase opinion polarization? The "echo chamber" thesis points to the role of selective exposure to homogeneous views and information. Critics of this view emphasize the potential of online media to expand the ideological spectrum that news consumers encounter. Embedded in this discussion is the assumption that online media affects public opinion via the range of information that it offers to users. We show that online media can induce opinion polarization even among users exposed to ideologically heterogeneous views, by heightening the emotional intensity of the content. Higher affective intensity provokes motivated reasoning, which in turn leads to opinion polarization. The results of an online experiment focusing on the comments section, a user-driven tool of communication whose effects on opinion formation remain poorly understood, show that participants randomly assigned to read an online news article with a user comments section subsequently express more extreme views on the topic of the article than a control group reading the same article without any comments. Consistent with expectations, this effect is driven by the emotional intensity of the comments, lending support to the idea that motivated reasoning is the mechanism behind this effect.

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APA

Asker, D., & Dinas, E. (2019). Thinking Fast and Furious: Emotional Intensity and Opinion Polarization in Online Media. Public Opinion Quarterly, 83(3), 487–509. https://doi.org/10.1093/poq/nfz042

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