Response with a vengeance: The impact of hostile media perceptions on polarization

This project links research on the so-called hostile media effect (HME) to polarization. The HME refers to the important finding that people with very strong attitudes about a position, a high involvement in a debate or conflict, or pronounced group affiliations tend to perceive even objectively balanced mass media coverage about their topic or group as unfairly biased toward opposing sides. Accordingly, they presume the journalist(s) hold attitudes hostile to their own view. The HME is well examined, but so far only very few studies explored links to polarization. However, for example in an already polarized political landscape like in the US, people might feel unfairly treated by “the press” and this subjective perception might further instigate or maintain polarization.

The present project adopts a social-psychological group perspective to examine if the HME drives momentary polarization. According this logic, the more pronounced the HME, i.e., the more people perceive coverage they are exposed to as unfairly biased, the more they could “respond with a vengeance” – i.e., dislike and distrust opposing groups even more than before, and affiliate even more strongly with their own group or favored position. This response with avengeance might indicate polarization, as conflicted groups might turn increasingly distant and contemptful of each other.

Team: Tilo Hartmann, Martin Tanis