“Biased” Systematic and Heuristic Processing of Politicians’ Messages: Effects of Source Favorability and Political Interest on Attitude Judgment.
“Biased” Systematic and Heuristic Processing of Politicians’ Messages: Effects of Source Favorability and Political Interest on Attitude Judgment
Sungkyunkwan University, Republic of Korea
Universiti Putra Malaysia, Malaysia
This study investigated two information-processing modes for political messages from favored politicians: “biased” systematic processing and heuristic processing. In an experiment, college students (N = 183) with different levels of political interest received messages about unfamiliar political issues from either a favored or a less favored candidate in the 2008 U.S. presidential election. For those with low levels of political interest, source favorability had a direct effect on attitudes, indicating heuristic processing. For those with high political interest, source favorability had an indirect effect on attitudes through message-relevant thoughts, indicating biased systematic processing. The theoretical and practical implications of the findings are discussed.
Keywords: politicians’ messages, source favorability, bias hypothesis, political interest, heuristic processing
In an ideal deliberative democracy, interested, informed, and communicative citizens join with others to form opinions on public affairs (Fishkin, 2011; Fishkin & Luskin, 2005; Habermas, 1989; Katz, 1995). Fishkin (2011) characterized deliberative democracy as decision making by lay citizens who sincerely weigh all arguments based on evidence, not on who is advocating a particular view. However, theories of persuasion state and empirical studies have confirmed that citizens’ judgments are not free from the effects of sources but are often formed based on who delivers the political messages (Mondak, 1993a, 1993b; Popkin, 1991; Pornpitakpan, 2004; Ziegler & Diehl, 2003).
Previous studies on the effect of sources on political judgments suggest that citizens who are less sophisticated and less interested in politics tend to be affected by characteristics of the advocators
1 This research was supported by the Samsung Research Fund, Sungkyunkwan University, 2010. Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed to Sungeun Chung, the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul, Republic of Korea, 110-745.
Copyright © 2016 (Sungeun Chung & Moniza Waheed). Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives (by-nc-nd). Available at http://ijoc.org.
(heuristic processing; Fogarty & Wolak, 2009; Lupia, 1994; Lupia & McCubbins, 1988; Mondak, 1993a, 1993b; Popkin, 1991). However, studies on motivated political reasoning have found that politically sophisticated citizens are also prone to biased information processing, such as seeking confirmatory evidence and critically evaluating contrary arguments (Bohner, Ruder, & Erb, 2002, Chaiken, Liberman, & Eagly, 1989; Chaiken & Maheswaran, 1994; Chen & Chaiken, 1999; Erb, Bohner, Schmälzel, & Rank, 1998). Even though biased processing may occur for highly sophisticated people, how citizens with high levels of interest in politics use the source information when processing politicians’ messages is relatively unknown. The present study investigated how citizens with different levels of interest in political process political messages and how citizens’ decisions are affected by their favorability toward politicians.
The heuristic systematic model (HSM; Chaiken et al., 1989; Chaiken & Maheswaran, 1994) suggests two specific processes for the effects of source cues on political judgments for different levels of cognitive motivation: “biased” systematic processing for citizens with high political interest and heuristic processing for citizens with low levels of interest (Bohner et al., 2002; Chaiken et al., 1989; Chaiken & Maheswaran, 1994; Chen & Chaiken, 1999; Erb et al., 1998). Using the HSM framework, we investigated causal mechanisms for the effects of source favorability on attitudes for different levels of political interest and the mediating role of cognitive responses in the causal relationships.
Systematic, Heuristic, and Biased Systematic Processing of Politicians’ Messages
How do citizens process politicians’ messages to make political decisions on certain issues? Theories of motivated reasoning maintain that not only accuracy goals but also directional goals (e.g., belief perseverance goals, partisan goals) drive all human reasoning.
Previous studies of the effects of politicians’ messages on judgment have focused on the use of the source expertise cues (i.e., “Experts are right”) in heuristic processing and found an effect of message source on judgments for less motivated individuals (Fogarty & Wolak, 2009; Lupia, 1994; Lupia & McCubbins, 1988; Mondak, 1993a, 1993b; Popkin, 1991). In addition to the expertise of the source, favorability toward the source also may function as a heuristic cue (Brady & Sniderman, 1985). Because citizens often are asked to evaluate politicians who are nationally known, favorability toward politicians is highly accessible (Brady & Sniderman, 1985).
Brady and Sniderman (1985) found that citizens use favorability toward a politician to infer the politicians’ issue stances. They called this type of judgment the “likability heuristic,” and there are a number of psychological mechanisms for this heuristic. First, when citizens favor a politician, they also may believe the politician to be highly credible and conclude that their favored politicians’ stances on issues are right (Ziegler & Diehl, 2003). Second, citizens often favor a politician based on agreement regarding issues of importance (Campbell, Converse, Miller, & Stokes, 1960; Cook, Jelen, & Wilcox 1994; Ottati, 1990); that is, when citizens believe that a politician is right on what they consider to be key political issues, they may think that the politician is also right about other issues. Another mechanism is Heider’s (1958) balance theory and its applications to political attitudes (Brent & Granberg, 1982; Kinder, 1978; Ottati, Fishbein, & Middlestadt, 1988). According to this theory, voters tend to adopt their favored politician’s position on an issue to balance their cognitive systems.
Previous studies suggest that the effect of source cues on attitudes diminishes when message recipients are highly motivated (Lupia, 1994; Mondak, 1993a, 1993b). However, HSM states that when cognitive motivation is high, both systematic and heuristic processing may occur simultaneously (Bohner, Moskowitz, & Chaiken, 1995; Chaiken & Maheswaran, 1994; Ziegler & Diehl, 2003). According to HSM, in some cases, heuristic processing produces expectations of the probable veracity of message claims and biases systematic processing for message recipients who are highly motivated (the bias hypothesis, or biased systematic processing; Bohner et al., 2002; Chaiken & Maheswaran, 1994; Erb et al., 1998; Ziegler