Shrinking Knowledge Gaps?
The informative potential of emotionally personalized news
For IU Telecom’s Media Arts & Sciences Speaker Series Ozen Bas and Betsi Grabe presented their recent research on emotionally charged news. Building off the current understanding of the knowledge gap, they argued that democracy needs an informed citizenry. But democracy struggles because of the differences among individuals regarding cognitive inadequacy and/or motivation. Additionally, some suggest that news media are not fulfilling their role of accurately informing the public because they focus on subjective reporting that emphasizes emotion over cold, hard facts (i.e., reason).
The idea that emotionally laden news is bad comes from the notion that emotion and reason cannot co-occur. To rationally engage with content means you can’t be emotionally invested. But more recent work within political and cognitive science shows that the emotion and reason can bolster one another. Thus, Ozen and Betsi’s work explored how emotion better serves memory for news content based on one’s level of education.
A 2 (education high vs. low) x 2 (time 1 & time 2) x 2 (personalized vs. non-personalized story) experiment revealed that emotional content increased memory for news content for all subjects. However, the benefit was most noticeable among lower educated participants. The time analyses showed that memory decayed more for those with lower education levels. Finally, those with lower education levels remembered more general details about the news stories and those with higher education levels remembered more specific details about the news stories.
I think these findings pose a curious challenge for dual-process accounts such as the elaboration likelihood model (ELM), as it distinctly separates heuristic and systematic processing. Furthermore, the ELM argues that systematic processing leads to stronger attitude persistence. Perhaps Ozen and Betsi’s work reveals that parallel process accounts (see Khaneman’s research) better account for our retention of news content.