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Threat and Information Acquisition: Evidence from an Eight Country Study

  • Jennifer L. Merolla (a1) and Elizabeth J. Zechmeister (a2)

We assess individuals’ responses to news about threat, compared to news about positive indicators of well-being, using data from nine experiments conducted across eight countries. The general proposition is that exposure to news about threat increases tendencies to “tune in” to information, compared to those presented with news about better times. The evidence strongly supports this expectation: without exception, the average respondent recalls and seeks more information about terrorist threat than good times. Further, this pattern of results generalizes to other threats. The study thematically and geographically extends research on negative information and political learning. It also has broader implications: absorbing newsworthy information is foundational to the types of attitudes citizens express and the extent to which, and how, they engage in the world around them.

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Materials required to replicate all analyses in this article are available at the Journal of Experimental Political Science Dataverse within the Harvard Dataverse Network, at doi:10.7910/DVN/YJOPLH. Support for this project was granted from the National Science Foundation (Award nos. 0850824 and 0851136).

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Journal of Experimental Political Science
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Merolla and Zechmeister supplementary material
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Merolla and Zechmeister Dataset



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