Sunday, November 24, 2019

There is a generalized bias towards negativity, but with individual-level differences, which appear to be partly pre-dispositional (durable, with correlations with demographic, partisan & personality measures)

Individual-level differences in negativity biases in news selection. Sarah Bachleda et al. Personality and Individual Differences, November 23 2019, 109675.

Abstract: Literatures across the social sciences highlight the tendency for humans to be more attentive to negative information than to positive information. We focus here on negativity biases in news selection (NBNS) and suggest that this bias varies across individuals and contexts. We introduce a survey-based measure of NBNS which is used to explore the correlates of negative news bias in surveys in the U.S., Canada, and Sweden. We find that some respondents are more prone to NBNS than others. There is evidence of contextual effects, but panel data suggests that some of the individual-level differences persist over time. NBNS likely reflects some combination of long-term personality differences and short-term situational factors, and is systematically related to a number of economic and political attitudes.

Keywords: Political communicationPersonality differencesNews consumptionNegativity bias

1. Durable versus context-driven individual-level variation in negativity biases

"including Lilienfeld and Latzman's (2014) finding that although conservatives are more responsive to negative information on average, both conservatives and liberals respond to negative information when it poses a threat to their partisan identity; or Federico, Johnston and Lavine's (2014) finding that evidence of negativity biases will be conditional on political engagement."

6. Discussion

There is reason to expect that individual-level variation in negativity biases has an important and durable impact on individuals’ news media use, as well as on a range of economic and political attitudes. This paper has taken a first step toward measuring a negativity bias in news selection. We find that while on balance there is a bias towards negativity, there are individual-level differences. These differences appear to be partly pre-dispositional; that is, they appear to be durable, demonstrated both by correlations with demographic, partisan and personality measures, and by within-respondent correlations across time. We also find that these individual-level differences are correlated with a variety of economic and political attitudes. We take these results as evidence of the potential importance of negativity biases in news selection (NBNS) in understanding attitudes about governments, the economy, and other politically and economically-relevant attitudes. We also suspect that NBNS moderates the impact of news content – those who are high in NBNS may select into a rather different information stream than those who are low in NBNS, which could subsequently shape their political perspectives. Although this application of the measure is not tested here, we thus see disentangling the relationship between political news selection and political preferences as an important avenue for future research. There is also potential for work that explores the degree to which more nuanced variation in tone – i.e., not just positive or negative, but gradations across that range – matters for story selection and measures of negativity biases. Our headlines do not vary in tone much within the negative and positive categories (see Appendix Fig. 2); this was done by design. But past work has suggested nonlinearities in negativity biases (e.g., Ito and Cacioppo, 2005), and these could be more fully explored using headlines that vary systematically in degrees of positivity or negativity. Finally, an exploration of the relationship between NBNS and other measures of negativity biases will be critical for future work. Given that other more standard measures of negativity biases are primarily labbased, we have not examined them in the survey data used here. However, understanding the extent to which NBNS is a domain-specific negativity bias, versus the consequence of a more domain-general bias, requires further research. Our results provide only a first step in this direction. In doing so, however, we regard the preceding analyses as a first signal that individual-level differences in news preferences may be one way in which personality differences are relevant to political attitudes and behavior.


U.S. Sample
Data for the U.S. study were collected as part of an online panel survey from a sample provided by Qualtrics, which recruited subjects using ClearVoice research. ClearVoice maintains a standing panel of survey respondents who were recruited to the platform through a combination of targeted emails, advertisements, and website intercepts. These individuals then opt-in to taking surveys and are recruited to participate in individual studies either by email or by clicking on a dashboard link. ClearVoice sent emails to 61,865 panelists with the goal of recruiting a broad national sample of at least 3,667 Americans to participate in the study.

Swedish Sample
Data for the first Swedish sample come from the Citizen Panel (original Swedish name: Medborgarpanelen – MP), which is a panel survey fielded online by the Laboratory of Opinion Research (LORE). Specifically, the data come from Citizen Panel 16 (MP16), which was fielded between June 9 and June 30, 2015. The panel used a mixed sampling design whereby 84 percent of the gross sample were opt-in and the remaining 16 percent were probability based. The panel wave included five separate modules and our data come from module 3 (Negativity Biases). This module yielded 12,867 complete responses for an AAPOR participation rate (RR5) of 92%.

Data for the second Swedish sample also come from the Citizen Panel. Specifically, the data come from Citizen Panel 29 (MP29), which was fielded between March 22 and April 16, 2018. The panel used a mixed sampling design whereby 76 percent of the gross sample were opt-in and the remaining 24 percent were probability based. The panel wave included five separate modules and our data come from module 2 (Negativity Biases in News Selection). Additional information about the Citizen Panels can be found at

Canadian Sample
The Canadian data come from the 2015 Canadian Election Study. Full documentation for the study can be found at: english-section/surveys/. The study was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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