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Emotional Responses to Disturbing Political News: The Role of Personality*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 November 2016

Timothy J. Ryan
Department of Political Science, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA, e-mails:,
Matthew S. Wells
Department of Political Science, Wabash College, Crawfordsville, IN 47933, USA e-mail:
Brice D. L. Acree
Department of Political Science, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA, e-mails:,


Recent scholarship in political science identifies emotions as an important antecedent to political behavior. Existing work, however, has focused much more on the political effects of emotions than on their causes. Here, we begin to examine how personality moderates emotional responses to political events. We hypothesized that the personality trait need for affect (NFA) would moderate the emotions evoked by disturbing political news. Drawing data from a survey experiment conducted on a national sample, we find that individuals high in NFA have an especially vivid emotional response to disturbing news—a moderating relationship that has the potential to surpass those associated with symbolic attachments.

Research Article
Copyright © The Experimental Research Section of the American Political Science Association 2016 

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We acknowledge the Gerald R. Ford Fellowship and the Rackham Graduate Student Research Grant at the University of Michigan for research support, and we thank Kevin Arceneaux for comments on an earlier draft. Errors are our own.



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